Shame, guilt, desire, regret — these are only a few of the emotions people experience when they are dependent on a substance. This anguish has been fuel for thousands of beautiful, moving, raw and intense songs about addiction. For many decades artists have used their lyrics and melodies to tell stories of relationships with drugs and alcohol. Their songs have satisfied the curiosity of the sober and eased the loneliness of those who are struggling with the mental illness.
Rather than using subjective rankings to form our list, we thought about which songs most vividly describe the experience of addiction, how the illness can destroy lives and bonds. We looked for tracks that detail the mindset and behavior of someone who is falling into the void of substance abuse or realizing they have a problem (Keep in mind that recovery is the other side of the coin and deserves its own list).
Use our playlist to sympathize with those afflicted with addiction or remind yourself that millions of others carry the same burden. Here are our picks for songs about addiction (in no particular order):
1. “Not an Addict” by K’s Choice
K’s Choice, a band from Belgium, was far from mainstream for a many years. “Not an Addict” played a crucial role in increasing their popularity and spreading their music to other countries.
The acclaimed song expresses the denial people often feel when the idea of “being an addict” enters their consciousness. The lyrics provide examples of what people tell themselves to avoid acknowledging a serious issue. As the verses carry on, the tone becomes more solemn and the character in the song verges on admitting there is an addiction.
2. “Save Me” by Shinedown
When people sink to the deepest point in their addiction, they sometimes cry out for help. They feel weak and powerless in the face of overwhelming desire for a substance.
“Save Me” expresses the pain of being consumed by addiction. Some of the lyrics and phrases describe the isolation and loneliness of losing everything to drugs, specifically pills.
3. “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind
This rock song tells the story of a couple that is abusing drugs to spice up their relationship. The lyrics mention crystal meth specifically. There are also several stanzas with a theme of how people often rely on substances to make life more bearable, exciting, or pleasurable.
4. “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran
Years before his rise to stardom, Ed Sheeran visited a homeless shelter and saw women who were addicted to crack cocaine, some of whom resorted to prostitution to fund their habit. The experience inspired him to write “The A Team,” a song that played a significant role in catalyzing his career.
Sheeran’s first hit describes the appearance, vibe, and behavior of a woman addicted to cocaine. He imagines what her story might have been: struggling to pay rent, feeling like what she really wants is unattainable, sinking into depression and desperation, using harsh substances to cope.
5. “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine” by Sia
Addiction can hurt others as much or more than the person with the problem. Relationships often deteriorate because one partner chooses drugs over love. When people date those with substance abuse problems, they often feel as if their partner is having an affair with the addiction. Sneaking around to hide drug use can feel like cheating.
In “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine,” Sia sings about the exasperation of supporting an addicted partner who does not improve. Most of the lyrics express her resolution to leave the relationship forever.
6. “Walk a Little Straighter” by Billy Currington
Children of addicts grow up witnessing how substance abuse can cause neglect. “Walk a Little Straighter” tells the story of a boy whose alcoholic father constantly disappoints him. Eventually the boy becomes a man and resolves to be sober so his children will not suffer like he did.
7. “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground
One of the “500 Greatest Songs of all time,” according to Rolling Stone, this hit describes the destructive nature of being addicted to heroin. The narrator believes the substance is powerful and addictive enough to “nullify” his life. It becomes his “wife” as well.
8. “The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young
As Neil Young grew older and furthered his career, he met many musicians who had become addicted to heroin. Some of these colleagues became close friends. When Young saw how the dangerous drug had destroyed their lives, he decided to write “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
Some lines in the song allude to how addiction can make people desperate. Young states that drugs often consume talented and hardworking people before they have a chance to become successful.
9. “Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley
Sometimes people turn to substances to cope with heartbreak. They hope the sensation of using will help them forget the pain of losing a loved one. “Whiskey Lullaby” tells the story of a man who became an alcoholic after his partner left and eventually drank himself to death. His tragic passing contributed to his ex developing an alcohol addiction as well. The country song illustrates how substance abuse can become a cycle. Addiction can be an inheritance.
10. “Your Glass House” by Atmosphere
People often realize they have substance abuse problems after partying too hard — yet again — and waking up with a horrible hangover and no recollection of the previous night. “Your Glass House” describes a woman regaining consciousness after a house party and feeling shame as she realizes her top is off and she has no idea what happened. She barely has enough mental awareness to call in sick to work.
What Other Songs Capture the Experience of Addiction?
If you think there are more songs about addiction that absolutely need to be on this list, feel free to send us a message via social media. These songs should illustrate a wide range of experiences, including yours.