How John Lennon's Heroin Addiction Affected The Beatles

By Lindsey Weedston 02/25/19

A new report delves into the impact that Lennon's heroin addiction had on the iconic rock band.

John Lennon - The Beatles
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John Lennon’s addiction to heroin during a time when it was poorly understood may have played a significant role in the breakup of the Beatles, according to an article published in Salon.

Fans have long speculated on just how much of the lyrics in the late Beatle's songs reference the powerful illicit opioid, but a look into Lennon’s own words and reports from those close to him paint a picture of someone who was deep into an addiction disorder before he was able to finally quit.

The Beatles were not shy about experimenting with drugs during their time in the spotlight. Early in their music careers, the members of the Beatles were “veteran pill-poppers,” using amphetamines regularly.

They were then introduced to cannabis by Bob Dylan, and a former housekeeper employed by Lennon wrote a letter claiming that she “began noticing drugs lying around in various parts of the house.” 

Lennon, Harrison, and their wives would later be slipped LSD by a dentist named John Riley, according to Rolling Stone. This terrifying experience is credited for their Revolver album.

Heroin, however, may have done more damage to the Beatles than provided inspiration. Though it was only Lennon and Yoko Ono who used the opioid, it created a fracture in the group.

“The two of them were on heroin, and this was a fairly big shocker for us because we all thought we were far-out boys, but we kind of understood that we’d never get quite that far out,” said McCartney, according to the Salon article.

In later interviews, Lennon suggested that a hashish raid leading to the couple’s arrest, and Ono’s miscarriage that happened a few days after, led to their experimentation with heroin. However, writer and Beatles authority Kenneth Womack points out that Lennon spoke about taking heroin in the summer before the raid.

Whatever the reason, Lennon’s heroin use was said to have caused his intense and often violent mood swings that made it difficult for the other band members to reason with him.

“The other Beatles had to walk on eggshells just to avoid one of his explosive rages,” wrote music historian Barry Miles. “Whereas in the old days they could have tackled him about the strain that Yoko’s presence put on recording and had an old-fashioned set-to about it, now it was impossible because John was in such an unpredictable state and so obviously in pain.”

With no resources available at the time to help people detox from heroin, Lennon and Ono had no choice but to quit “cold turkey,” leading to the creation of the song “Cold Turkey,” in which Lennon vividly describes the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

The song was banned from the radio, which led Lennon to become an early advocate of addiction education.

“They’re so stupid about drugs,” he said in an interview. “They’re not looking at the cause of the drug problem: Why do people take drugs? To escape from what? Is life so terrible? Are we living in such a terrible situation that we can’t do anything without reinforcement of alcohol, tobacco? Aspirins, sleeping pills, uppers, downers, never mind the heroin and cocaine—they’re just the outer fringes of Librium and speed.”

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: