To a musical artist, music is everything. All of life is approached from an audial perspective. Every song heard on the radio is analyzed and broken down. Musicians are guided through life by their ears; their inlet for creative talent. Musicians who succeed in the music industry are very passionate and driven, and give everything they are to their original music. But oddly, the pursuit of music can be a blessing and a curse. The soulful calling of musicianship often leads into a certain kind of lifestyle – one that is very prominent in the music industry. Addiction and substance abuse have tragically claimed the lives and careers of some of the best musicians who ever lived. The very thing that inspires a musician’s life work is also the thing that will introduce them to a dangerous lifestyle.
When a musician is first starting out, they are incredibly driven and optimistic. Their focus is as sharp as it will ever be, which is what a life of pursuing music can do for a person. Music has been called the activity that uses more of the human brain than any other activity. It can be a career, a passion, or both. Most young musicians claim that they are driven to strive for excellence in music for the sake of the music itself, not for the rock star lifestyle. However, once they are accepted into the music industry, their priorities often change.
The music industry can be a very harsh world, and many who discover it do not remain unscathed. Any entertainment celebrity, including musicians, must face pressures, criticisms and temptations in their chosen profession. Society thinks of performers as commodities and pressures them to be above the trials of everyday life in order to keep them entertained. Critics can be brutally harsh and destructive on a sensitive musician’s psyche. In light of these hardships, musicians look for a means of escape and frequently choose addiction or substance abuse. Every kind of pleasureful vice available is offered to musicians in excess, and sometimes they are sucked deep into a lifestyle that they cannot escape from. Some recover and turn back to their music – the thing that originally inspired them. But some are not so lucky and lose their careers and even their lives to addiction and substance abuse.
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Addiction treatment, in the form of rehab or otherwise, is always recommended for cases of addiction, but interestingly, another effective way of recovering from addiction is to do what you are passionate about. For musicians, choosing to devote themselves back to their talent and their craft can mean the difference between recovery and addiction. In some cases, it can even mean the difference between life and death.
The reason that returning to the craft of musicianship can pull a musician out of addiction is because passion replaces the need for addiction. People remain addicted as long as they do because they enjoy the ride they are on initially. Their addiction gives them a secret escape to indulge in and forget about the hard realities of the world for a time. What is interesting is that being wrapped up in what you are passionate about actually gives you the same feeling. The literal source of the feeling is a brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is what is released in our brains that tells us we are having a pleasurable experience. The best way to describe the feeling of a dopamine release is a “rush.” Feelings of excitement, adrenaline, renewal and adventure come flooding. One can easily imagine how both a mind-altering substance and answering a life calling can generate these basic human feelings. The difference is, one is healthy and sustainable and one can pose threat to your entire existence.
A musician that learns how to channel all their energy, talent, angst, emotion and intelligence into their music is a wise one. When a musician, or any artist for that matter, recognizes their potential to fall into addiction or substance abuse because of their personality type, the best thing they can do for themselves is to guard their heart and their mind against addiction and hold even tighter to their life’s purpose.
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Making it in the music industry is the ultimate prize to any professional musician. The music industry is a ruthless one to break into, full of fierce competition, dishonesty and superficiality. But for those who make it to the realm of music celebrity within the industry, it is the highest rank that can be obtained by a professional musician.
It is ironic that the professional aptitude that musicians strive so hard for is the thing that so often damages their personal lives. Addiction and substance abuse are frequently not something a musician encounters until they make it in the music industry. Making a living as a musician comes with exposure to exotic illegal drugs, fine alcohols and foods, and an abundance of sexual encounters.
Access to all of these pleasurable things is often a brand new experience for musicians when they make it in the industry. If they have encountered them in the past, it is highly unlikely that they had been anywhere near as accessible. The culture of music celebrity usually comes with good looks, style and a taste for the wild side. Suddenly, musicians who may have come from small towns or traditional communities are surrounded by offers of sex and addictive substances. Some are prepared for this and control their urges, or at least indulge responsibly. Others are taken completely off guard by this lifestyle and are sucked up into it with great intensity.
Some people who are drawn into the addict’s lifestyle in the music industry escape unscathed. They may not act like themselves for a time, but once the novelty and newness wears off, they can perceive their behavior for the destruction that it causes and begin to eradicate it from their lives. Some people find letting go of their addiction more difficult, and either get addiction treatment through rehab or walk a more dangerous line in their prolonged addictive tendencies. Then there are the tragic cases who, for whatever reason, fall so deeply into their addiction that they cannot find their way out. This type of person is in the greatest danger of doing permanent damage to their body, or even jeopardizing their life.
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For a true musician, music is life. Ideas for songs are constantly coming to you, you notice the music and sound environment everywhere you go, instruments and music technology are a major financial investment in your life and a majority of your friends are also musicians. A consummate musician will live, eat and sleep music until they get it out of their system, onto a recorded track and share it with the world.
Musicians and addiction frequently go together because the same angst, energy and intelligence that prompt a person to be a musician are frequently the same qualities that spawn an addiction. Musicians are often a delicate combination of emotion and intelligence. In fact, many musicians are emotionally volatile, and instead of expressing their heightened emotions through communication, they express their feelings through music. Music is a healthy and productive outlet for emotions.
There is no activity that humans perform that has been found to use more of the brain at once than music. The learning and performing of music utilizes many compartments of the brain simultaneously, requiring the linear thinking of music theory, the creative thinking of composing, the hand-eye coordination of learning how to manipulate the instrument and the muscle memory of playing the instrument well, as well as many other subtle brain ability tests.
Sadly, substance abuse and addiction can also give the initial feeling of emotional relief to a person who is seeking it. Drugs and alcohol especially give the user an altered perception that can temporarily remove them from their emotions. This is the primary reason that musicians and other artists abuse substances or grow addicted to them. They come to depend on the temporary relief they provide, but have to continuously use them heavier and heavier so they do not grow tolerant to them. This presents an interesting conundrum to musicians. Should they labor over the composition of music when there is potentially no livelihood in it just to have a healthy emotional outlet? Or should they turn to mind-altering substances for pleasure feelings and not have to do any work? The answer is obvious to a healthy person but confusing to an emotionally unstable person.
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