Metallica's James Hetfield Reflects On Getting Sober

By David Konow 11/15/16

"I was very withdrawn. The drinking helped me break out of that a little bit, but at the end of the day it was worse."

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Metallica's James Hetfield Reflects On Getting Sober

Metallica will be releasing their long awaited album, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, on Friday, Nov. 18, and it’s the band’s first collection of new material in eight years. On the eve of the album’s arrival, lead singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield reflected on why he finally got sober after years of serious alcohol use.

Metallica was legendary for their hard-partying ways, earning the nickname "Alcoholica" in the 80s. But around 2003, Hetfield knew he’d hit bottom and he had to get help. As he told Guitar World in 2009, he had a “major crash—my wife [threw] me out of the house. My wife said, 'You’re not coming back until you sort this out and get some therapy.'” Hetfield faced losing his band and his family. “Both of them at the same time. So that was it. I thought, I’ve got to get it together or they’re both going to go away.”

Hetfield grew up in a repressed, religious family, adding, “I was very withdrawn … The drinking helped me break out of that a little bit, but at the end of the day it was worse. I’d dug a deeper hole for myself.”

Now in the Wall Street Journal, Hetfield says, “I have an addictive personality, so when I act impulsively it can go very wrong. In the band’s early days, we didn’t think at all—we lived in the moment. Usually that involved drinking or drugs or women. We destroyed our health on the road, until we realized that we couldn’t play anymore, that I couldn’t perform the way I wanted.”

Once Hetfield sobered up, and the band saw that they weren’t treating each other well, everyone finally realized “we had a lot to be thankful for. I’ve learned that self-awareness is important, as is the ability to think impulsive ideas through to their natural conclusion. Now I’m spontaneous rather than impulsive, especially when I’m writing music or playing the guitar.”

As Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich told Rolling Stone in a new interview, “Our M.O. at that time was just to have the blinders on. We drank our way through pretty much any obstacles … You learn as you grow older. Age and experience just knock on the door at some point and you go, ‘OK, I don't want to wake up or pass out in that situation again.’ I’m lucky in that I don’t have an addictive personality. I still drink—I don’t indulge in anything else—but I made the conscious decision to stop whatever else I was doing.” 

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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