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Powerful Songs About Heroin Addiction by Artists in Recovery

Heroin has taken many musicians to some dark places—sadly, not all have survived. But these artists eventually quit using drugs and wrote some powerful songs about their heroin addiction experiences.

“Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor is an Oscar winner now, but before he wrote a Best Original Score, he penned this dark ‘90s hit, which includes the lyrics, “The needle tears a hole / the old familiar sting / Try to kill it all away.” At the time, Reznor was experiencing intense rage and self-loathing—he has said he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with his anger. After an overdose in 2000, he entered recovery. “When you don’t really want to stop being a drunk or a drug addict, you can find any excuse that validates what you’re doing,” he said. “I used the excuse that I need to do this because it’s fuelling my art…Having the courage to find redemption was worth it to me, even if it cost me my artistic life. Because it was going to cost me my actual life if I had kept on that path.”

“Heroin” by The Velvet Underground

Lou Reed was well known for his self-destructive lifestyle in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and was often criticized for glamorizing drug use. “There are certain drugs you have to take just to keep yourself normal like a caveman, just to bring yourself up or down,” he said. The song “Heroin” by the band he founded—Velvet Underground—describes a life consumed by the drug: “Heroin, be the death of me / Heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life.” The frontman eventually cleaned up and remained sober for the last 30 years of his life, declaring he was “bigger and stronger than ever.” He died in 2013 of liver disease, but his influence lives on.

“Life is Beautiful” by Sixx A.M.

Nikki Sixx—best known as the bassist for heavy metal band Mötley Crüe—was declared dead for two minutes after a heroin overdose in 1987. Twenty-five years later, he reflected on his Facebook page: “I would have never seen the birth of my 4 beautiful children and had such a wonderful life (even with its adversity) if I had not kicked drugs.” He reflects further on his past drug use in his 2008 memoir, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. “Life is Beautiful” comes from the soundtrack he wrote to accompany the book. With stark lyrics like, “It took a funeral to make me feel alive,” he reminds listeners to be grateful for the day.

“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor

Fans often mistakenly assume this sad song is about a girlfriend dying in a plane crash. It’s actually about a friend committing suicide and Taylor’s own struggles with a heroin addiction that began when he was 18: “My body’s aching and my time is at hand / And I won’t make it any other way.” He finally succeeded at kicking the drug in 1983. “I felt terrible inside my own skin for about six months [after getting clean]” Taylor said in 2000. “And the only thing that gave me any real relief was strenuous physical activity…I sort of swapped addictions and got into physical exercise.”

“Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

The song that hurled the Chili Peppers to stardom in 1992, “Under The Bridge” was written by singer Anthony Kiedis about his struggles with drug addiction, which are well documented in his 2004 autobiography Scar Tissue. At the time, he was almost three years sober and felt his recovery was taking a toll on his friendships, inspiring the lyrics: “Sometimes I feel like my only friend is the city I live in.” But as he later explained in an interview, it was worth it: “No matter how sad or lonely I got, things were a million percent better than they were…when I was using drugs all the time.” Kiedis bounced in and out of treatment for his heroin addiction for years, but has now been clean since 2000.

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