How MusiCares Helps Musicians Battling Addiction

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How MusiCares Helps Musicians Battling Addiction

By Paul Fuhr 12/14/17

MusiCares is part of a growing number of advocates for sobriety in the music community. 

Image: 
U2 at a Musicares event
U2's Adam Clayton was honored by the foundation back in July.

This has been a particularly tumultuous year for musicians battling mental health issues and addiction so Billboard decided to spotlight the people and services who are working to offer a helping hand for musicians in need of treatment and support.

MusiCares is one of the most popular music-centered nonprofits that has long-provided medical, personal and financial help to performing artists through the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Over the past 13 years, the organization has given musicians in need nearly $10 million in financial assistance.

While MusiCares has made considerable headway with mental well-being, Billboard highlights the November 15 loss of 21-year-old Lil Peep as a sign that there is a long way to go. (The New York-based rap artist was found dead in a Tucson hotel room due to an apparent fentanyl-Xanax overdose.)  

The rapper follows several other high-profile musicians who have died due to struggles with addiction and mental health issues, including Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Prince, and Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland, among others.

Musicians are particularly susceptible to suicide, Billboard notes. “Often sensitive by nature, surrounded by sycophants and isolated for long stretches on the road, musicians can have their mental health issues compounded by the drinking and drug use that pervades their worlds.” 

According to research from Steve Stack, director of the Center for Suicide Research, musicians’ suicide rates are around three times the national average. (Nearly 43,000 people die by suicide every year in the U.S.)

Still, recent casualties like Lil Peep may suggest that things aren’t working, but that may not hold true for older generations of musicians. “I don’t think many of the elder statesmen get too high anymore,” Sony/ATV Music Publishing vice president Neil Lasher told Billboard.

At the 1997 Grammy Awards, Lasher launched the industry’s very first “Safe Harbor Room,” a backstage 12-step meeting (Billboard noted that bottles of alcohol in the designated bar area were covered with bedsheets). Now 30 years sober, Lasher has been instrumental in pushing sobriety into the music mainstream, with similar sober gathering spaces popping up at awards shows, conferences and festivals including Coachella and Lollapalooza. 

“I tell people we’re in the business of facilitating recovery,” Harold Owens, one of the leaders behind MusiCares told Billboard. A certified addiction counselor, Owens said he had been trying to help Bennington with his sobriety shortly before the Linkin Park frontman’s suicide.

Owens told Billboard that his role with MusiCares is less about handing out money to people in recovery than it is about getting others into treatment. It’s about “getting them spiritually connected with other people and bringing them back to life,” Owens told Billboard. “My own recovery was a rebirth of sorts, and we get to see the light turned on with a lot of people.”

MusiCares isn’t alone, either; it’s part of a growing number of advocates for sobriety in the music community. Artist manager Jeff Jampol is another such “sobriety guru,” focusing on his work with Impact, a Pasadena-based treatment center. Between Impact and MusiCares, Billboard suggested, there are more resources for struggling musicians than ever before, calling out a “sober mafia” among exec leaders in the industry.

“Recovery has become part of the zeitgeist,” Jampol said. “There is a language we all speak in relating to each other as addicts, which can cut through the bullshit. I’m just happy to see that we have this overall support, and an intrinsic, entrenched community that’s growing every day.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.

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