Mike Ness From Social Distortion Talks Sobriety

By David Konow 10/15/19

“I hit an emotional bottom early on, and I’m grateful. I was lucky," said the lead singer.

Photo via Wikicommons/

Los Angeles-based punk band Social Distortion hit their 40-year anniversary, and lead singer/founder Mike Ness is lucky to be here to enjoy it.

Ness had his battles with addiction and hardship as a young punk—tough experiences that he chronicled in his music—but he cleaned up his act when he was 23, and has been sober for 34 years.

As Ness tells Alternative Press, he left home when he was a teenager, and was not on good terms with his parents for years. “I had to figure out everything again on my own,” he explains.

“I got sober when I was 23, and I thought, as long as I’m sober, everything’s good. It wasn’t until almost 20 years into my marriage that I realized my upbringing and stuff that happened to me as a kid was affecting my behavior and relationships with the people immediately close to me—my wife and kids. So I had to really confront that.”

17 & In The Throes Of Alcoholism

Ness said by the time he was 17 years old, “I was in full-blown alcoholism, a really fucked-up kid, damaged. And I was really, really lucky to have [gotten] pulled out of that. I could easily have just been a small paragraph in Flipside magazine saying, ‘We lost him.’”

Before Ness got sober, he spent a lot of time in jail. He was stealing to support his habit, and he finally had to confront his difficult childhood.

“I hit an emotional bottom early on, and I’m grateful,” he says today. “I was lucky. Here’s the thing: I was not successful with the band yet. I didn’t have handlers. I wasn’t shooting dope in the St. Regis or in the back of a limousine. But I’m grateful for that, because those people end up enabling you… I had nothing like that.”

Ness said he “started at the bottom. And ended up even a little lower… you’re out on the streets of Santa Ana and the dope man doesn’t even want you around because you’re such a pathetic mess… it’s a very lonely existence.”

Looking Back On Past Mistakes

As Ness is nearing his sixties, he says, “I don’t know if I make fewer mistakes. They’re just different kinds of mistakes. I guess they’re adult mistakes… I still have plenty to write, because I’m still trying to figure out what it is to be a man and navigate through life."

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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.