songs about addiction

Addiction Rock

SoCal Detox
SoCal Detox

SoCal Detox editorial contributors include writers, editors, mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals who are trained to create credible and authoritative health information that is accurate, informative, and easy to understand.

From Amy Winehouse to U2 here are 8 powerful addiction songs about substance abuse and its effects.

  1. 1. “Rehab,” Amy Winehouse

Most Haunting Lyric: “I ain’t got the time”

If there was ever a cautionary tale for an addict, it’s Amy Winehouse. She died of alcohol poisoning ate age 27, and her most popular song professes a refusal of help for substance abuse. “Rehab” is such a tragedy because too many times this is the result of what happens when people refuse to accept the help available.

  1. 2. “This Place Is a Prison,” The Postal Service

Most Haunting Lyric: “And I know that it’s not a party if it happens every night”

The images of inhaling thrills through 20-dollar-bills and draining tumblers only to get them refilled open this addiction song with a ragged digital edge. The Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard doesn’t mince words here: “This place is a prison.”

  1. 3. “The A Team,” Ed Sheeran

Most Haunting Lyric: “But lately her face seems slowly sinking, wasting, crumbling like pastries”

For an addiction song with such a whimsical melody, this is one of the darker tunes on this list, covering such topics as prostitution for a fix and the girl’s eventual death from an overdose. “The A Team” tells the story of a girl addicted to cocaine, which is referred to as a “Class A” drug. Written after visiting a homeless shelter, this is a musical reminder of the close connection between substance abuse and homelessness and the quiet tragedy of addiction that happens around us every day.

  1. 4. “Sober,” Kelly Clarkson

Most Powerful Lyric: “Picked my weeds but kept the flowers”

“Sober” is about more than substance; it’s about the root problems. And sometimes that’s people, thoughts, memories, or fears. Recovery is about more than abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it’s about a complete healing and a new way to understand life.

  1. 5. “Drug Dealer” (feat. Ariana Deboo), Macklemore

Most Powerful Lyric: “My drug dealer was a doctor.”

Citing such high profile deaths that involved prescription drugs as Michael Jackson, Prince, and Heath Ledger, Macklemore shines a light on the lesser talked about side of addiction: prescription drugs. He even calls out Congress claiming they do the work of billionaires running pharmaceutical companies.

  1. 6. “Running to Stand Still,” U2 

Most Powerful Lyric: “I only see one way out, you got to cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice”

With a comeback tour focused on the fan-favorite classic album The Joshua Tree, U2’s “Running to Stand Still” is as relevant today as it was when it was released in the ’80s. The heroin imagery is prevalent in this song (eyes painted red, needle chill) and the seven towers represent a housing complex near where Bono grew up called the Ballymun Flats where there was a rampant drug problem. The chorus is tragic and painful in its desperation and vivid imagery of the helplessness of addiction, both for people watching and those in the midst of it.

  1. 7. “The Needle and the Damage Done,” Neil Young

Most Powerful Lyric: “But every junkie’s like a settin’ sun”

Danny Whitten was one of the original members of Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse. Whitten and a roadie, Bruce Berry, both died of heroin overdoses, and this song was a type of response. Young has expressed remorse over not doing enough to save his friends, and you can certainly hear that tone of this classic. In an interview answer to a mother of two men addicted to drugs, Young said, “The song’s pretty straightforward. When I said every junkie’s like a setting sun, it’s like, if that’s what you’re gonna do, you’re gonna go down. … We’re all different, and we’re not responsible for the decisions that each other make. We can only try to guide, but we can’t take the blame.”

  1. 8. “Wise Up,” Aimee Mann

Most Powerful Lyric: “It’s not going to stop, it’s not going to stop, it’s not going to stop … till you wise up”

In “Wise Up” the singer is pleading with herself. And this is one of the most powerful aspects of this song about addiction. A person in the destructive cycle of substance abuse actually knows, ultimately it’s up to them. The final commission to “just give up” can be seen as tragic or as hopeful. For a person with a chemical dependence, ultimately the time will finally come to “give up.” That’s either going to be a tragedy or, hopefully, an acceptance of the help that is available. “It’s not going to stop, till you wise up.”

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