Flea Details Relationship With Drugs, Alcohol In Powerful Essay

By Kelly Burch 03/01/18

“Once you’ve opened the door to drug abuse, it’s always there, seducing you to come on in and get your head right.”


Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea has written about his decades-long relationship with drugs and alcohol in a powerful op-ed for TIME

“I’ve been around substance abuse since the day I was born,” wrote the 55-year-old bassist. “All the adults in my life regularly numbed themselves to ease their troubles, and alcohol or drugs were everywhere, always.”

Flea started smoking pot at 11, and progressed to harder drugs throughout his teens and twenties, he wrote. Before he got clean he saw three friends die from drug use, and said he had close calls himself. 

“It was a powerful yearning to be a good father that eventually inspired a sense of self-preservation, and in 1993 at the age of 30 I finally got that drugs were destructive and robbing my life force,” he wrote. “I cut them out forever.”

However, maintaining sobriety was not easy, especially as Flea, born Michael Peter Balzary, struggled with anxiety. 

“Temptation is a bitch,” he wrote. “All my life I’ve gone through periods of horrific anxiety: a tightness in my stomach that creeps up and squeezes my brain in an icy grip. My mind relentlessly whirring, I can’t eat or sleep, and I stare into a seemingly infinite void of despair, a bottomless pit of fear. Ouch. Man, drugs would fix all that in a flash.”

Oftentimes, drugs seemed like the easy answer. 

“Once you’ve opened the door to drug abuse, it’s always there, seducing you to come on in and get your head right,” he wrote. “I can meditate, exercise, pray, go to a shrink, work patiently and humbly through my most difficult relationship problems, or I could just meet a dealer, cop a bag of dope for $50 and fix it all in a minute.”

Today, the temptation is even more dangerous, since people can score their drugs in a doctor’s office. 

“Back when I was a petty thievin’ Hollywood street urchin running feral, and doing every drug in the book, the dangers were clear. Cops busted me, drug dealers burned me, accidental overdoses happened and scary gun-toting criminals lurked in the shadows. To step into this seedy world of narcotics was obviously dangerous,” he reminisced. 

“But what if your dealer was someone you’d trusted to keep you healthy since you were a kid? Many who are suffering today were introduced to drugs through their healthcare providers," he continued. "When I was a kid, my doctor would give me a butterscotch candy after a checkup. Now, they’re handing out scripts. It’s hard to beat temptation when the person supplying you has a fancy job and credentials and it’s usually bad advice not to trust them.”

Flea described how he was given a two-month supply of opioids after a surgery. Despite taking fewer pills than were prescribed, he immediately felt the effects. 

“I was high as hell when I took those things. It not only quelled my physical pain, but all my emotions as well.”

Flea wrote that being grateful—even for his pain—has helped him maintain his sobriety. 

“Life hurts. The world is scary and it’s easier to take drugs than work through pain, anxiety, injustice and disappointment,” he said. “But by starting with gratitude for the rough times, and valuing the lessons of our difficulties, we’ve got the opportunity to rise above them and be healthier and happier individuals who live above the strong temptation of addiction.”

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