Country Star Brantley Gilbert Recalls Opioid Addiction, Alcoholism

By Kelly Burch 05/11/18

“Nobody wakes up one morning and goes, ‘I want to be a drunk and a pill addict.’ I definitely wasn’t raised that way.”

Brantley Gilbert

Seven years ago Brantley Gilbert’s country music career was starting to take off. Unfortunately, at the same time his alcoholism and prescription pill addiction was also kicking into high gear. 

“Knowing where I am now, looking back almost makes me sick to my stomach,” Gilbert, 33, told PEOPLE. “To go back to that frame of mind now is hard. Just what the hell was I thinking?”

Gilbert’s addictions started after high school. 

“I was trying to figure everything out. And that’s hard to do that when you cloud your judgment.”

However, he knew he wanted to make music, and when his early career playing shows locally in Georgia showed promise, he moved to Nashville. There he became a songwriter for superstar Jason Aldean, but he also became more exposed to the pitfalls of the celebrity lifestyle. 

“Every day was a party,” he said. He even started waking up during the night to swig alcohol or take a pill. Still, he managed to keep moving his career ahead. 

“It wasn’t like I was stumbling around all day,” Gilbert said. “I was fully functioning — I wrote more songs then than I do now. That was the scary part.”

After waking up not knowing where he was, Gilbert vowed to get his drinking and drugging under control, but he still wasn’t ready to acknowledge the real extent of the problem. 

“That was one of the first times I got real with myself,” he says. “I said, ‘Look this is a problem, man, this isn’t a once every other weekend thing.’ But you try to Band-Aid it. You say, ‘Well if I can cut down a little bit, and just do it like everybody else does, it’d be fine.’”

Even when he was in the hospital for pancreatitis and doctors told him he wouldn’t survive a year unless he stopped drinking, Gilbert was hesitant to get serious about recovery. 

“I still put it off and was trying to slow down on my own, like, ‘All right I’m only gonna let myself take two pills today. I’m only gonna drink this much of my bottle and make a mark on the bottle.’ And it would work a couple days —  and then somebody throws a party.”

Finally, in December 2011 he realized he needed help. 

“I got to the point where I knew it was something I couldn’t do on my own,” Gilbert said. “Pissed me off to no end and embarrassed me. I’m a pretty strong-willed person but that was the one thing in my life that I couldn’t get to stick.”

He was ashamed, especially after his mother visited him in detox over Christmas.  

“Nobody wakes up one morning and goes, ‘I want to be a drunk and a pill addict.’ I definitely wasn’t raised that way,” Gilbert said. 

However, when country superstar Keith Urban, who is also in recovery, visited him, it made a huge difference. 

“[That was] one of the best things that could have happened to me in my life,” Gilbert said. “I remember him telling me, ‘Hey man, it’s gonna be scary, it’s gonna freak you out, but it’s gonna be beautiful.’ That was the opposite of the way I felt, and it gave me that extra kick to go, ‘I can do this.’”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.