Pain, Pills & Alcohol – How we go from substance use to substance abuse

June 3, 2018 aidavazin No comments exist

Let’s introduce some of the most difficult experiences through the talents found in the music industry. A very talented artist, Avicii, recently passed away due to allegedly committing suicide at the young age of 28. Many highly talented artists lost their lives around the same age including, Amy Winehouse (alcohol poisoning), Kurt Cobain (suicide by gunshot), and Jim Morrison (heart failure). The common factors of these extremely talented artists include: being described as emotionally sensitive, known for abusing substances and suffering from health problems. The underlying cause of all this distress can be traced back to stress.

AFEM – The Association for Electronic Music – recently interviewed several top artists to help identify some key areas of distress. The following 5 were cited as the most concerning areas:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Travelling
  • Substance use


In a 2017 interview, Avicii stated: “…parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.” Feelings of loneliness and anxiety are examples of emotional responses to stress.

  • Anxiety:
    • Most common forms of anxiety include performance anxiety, perfectionism, and panic. There is an unnerving feeling inside and feeling unsettled with constant fear of not being good enough. It can be so overwhelming that it becomes hard to breath resulting in panic attacks. Many describe it as feeling trapped at times. Anxiety is a visible disorder with many physical symptoms including excessive sweating, palpitations, and agitation.


  • Depression:
    • It’s hard to detect depression at times, because it tends to more invisible. Rather than showing visible physical symptoms, people tend to withdraw from their lives by means of self-isolation and loss of pleasure from previously pleasurable activities. As mentioned by Avicii and many others in high positions, it’s lonely once you get to the top. When an artist becomes famous there is a drastic change in their lifestyle. Many artists feel less and less understood making it harder and harder to relate to others. This is where it gets concerning, because a crucial part of our lives starts to breakdown: our support system.

Avicii retired in 2016, with open statements about his health problems and hospitalization for acute pancreatitis, removal of a blocked gallbladder, and removal of appendix. His family also stated that: “…[he] travelled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress.” Excessive travel and hard work go hand in hand with sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation and excessive travel are examples of external sources of stress.

  • Sleep deprivation:
    • Long hours of production and late hours at festivals and concerts strongly affect the sleep of artists. Our minds and bodies require sleep. We shut down physically and mentally when we start becoming sleep deprived, which exacerbates existing health problems or even contributes to the onset of new health problems. Many people in the music industry suffer from some kind of physical ailment.


  • Traveling:
    • The amount of travel involved in the music industry takes one away from routine. Routine is absolutely crucial for mentally stability. Constant travel means being in a constant state of adjustment and adaptation. A lot of stress develops because you go to one destination knowing you’re going to have to pack up and go to the next destination very soon.

Avicii was interview in January of 2014, making statements about his history of excessive drinking followed by a year sobriety. Substances are often used to manage the stressors in our lives. So, when does it go from use to abuse, or dependency?

The 3 stages of substance use:

  • 1st stage – we are using the substance(s) responsibly:
    • healthy limits on amount of use:
      • the amount used is enjoyable and you are still pretty present and coherent and usually feel good the next day
      • we don’t put ourselves and others in danger by driving under the influence
    • lack of cravings for the substance(s)
      • not used as a way to self-medicate
      • not used as a way to cope with stressors
    • good boundaries with the substance(s)
      • not using during work hours or while working
      • not making friends with people just for the sake of using substances


  • 2nd stage – we start abusing the substance(s):
    • Higher tolerance for substance(s):
      • Higher frequency and amount of use
      • it doesn’t feel as good as it used to and often leads to feeling sick the next day
    • Beginning to have cravings:
      • Using substances as a form of self-medicating from uncomfortable feelings such as stress, anxiety, depression
      • lack general motivation to do anything else throughout the day except for your substance(s) of choice
    • Poor boundaries of use:
      • You start using more frequently and in inappropriate environments such as work or driving under the influence
      • The basics become harder to manage, we may look more tired and sloppy in appearance
    • 3rd Stage – substance dependency:
      • Switch from having a tolerance to having a physical dependence:
        • Your body is unable to function without use
        • You no longer feel the “high” and use just to avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms
      • Switching from cravings to emotional dependence:
        • Uncontrollable emotional outbursts and nervous breakdowns without the substance(s)
        • Can’t do anything until you use the substance(s)
      • No boundaries of use:
        • Your whole life revolves around the substance(s) and you stop caring about your appearance and hygiene
        • Your health is severely compromised and organs are starting to shut down and you still won’t stop using

What is the determining factor that takes us from use to abuse, and then from abuse to dependency? The simplest answer is: pain relief. When we are faced with emotional pain and physical pain without knowing how to stop the pain we will go towards anything that can give us immediate, tangible results. Substances provide the exact thing we are looking for: immediate, tangible, pain relief. This is why there is a growing problem with abuse and dependency to pharmaceutical drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol. Unfortunately, using substances as a form of pain relief without any other tools or coping mechanisms turns the substances into another source of pain in our lives.

There are many options out there and much support to help anyone that is suffering. If you or a loved one may be suffering from substance abuse/dependency, anxiety, stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts please contact any of the following resources:

  • 24 hour Substance abuse helpline:
  • 24 hour Suicide hotline:
  • 24 hour Support lines:
  • Remote counseling services:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *