DISCLAIMER: As a member of the “most dangerous band in the world”, Slash and the other members of Guns N’ Roses lived a well-documented rock & roll lifestyle that included heavy drinking and drug use. This is an effort to use what we know about Slash’s substance abuse struggles and eventual recovery to help other people who are fighting similar battles right now.
“I was fortunate. I didn’t die, and I didn’t go to prison. Because that’s usually what happens with anybody who doesn’t come to terms with it at some point.”
One of the greatest guitarists of all time is known by just one syllable—Slash. In the mid-1980s, he became internationally famous as the lead guitarist for the hard rock band Guns N’ Roses. And in an industry for excess, the bad boys of GNR seemed determined to set a new standard for drinking, drug use, and debauchery. One writer described the band as “a wagonload of nitroglycerine tattling towards a precipice.”
And Slash—real name Saul Hudson— was no exception.
In fact, drugs “killed” him on multiple occasions—Slash admits that he overdosed and flatlined at least three times that he knows of. And in 2001, at the too-young age of only 35, Slash was diagnosed with a form of congestive heart failure known as cardiomyopathy. Eventually, he had to have a defibrillator implanted to protect against sudden cardiac death.
The reason for the defibrillator?
Years of chronic and heavy alcohol abuse.
Slash says, “Years of drinking had swollen my heart to the point of bursting. It reached the point where the doctors gave me between six days and six weeks to live.”
With such an extreme personal history, it’s a refreshing surprise to see Slash today—sober since 2005, he is healthier than ever. Recently, he has been openly discussing his past vices and his eventual recovery from alcohol and heroin addiction.
Let’s take a closer look at the stories of Slash and his Guns N’ Roses bandmates to see what the rest of us can learn.
Early Environment Matters
“I come from, not an alcoholic background, but my dad was a drinker and people in my family were drinkers, and being born in England, that was just part of pub culture.”
Born in London in 1965 to artistically-inclined parents, young Saul Hudson was raised during early childhood by his father and paternal grandparents while his mother went to Los Angeles to look for work. At age 5, Saul and his father moved to America to join her.
In light of Slash’s later troubles with substance abuse, this early separation from his mother has profound and relevant psychological implications. The absence of a parent—especially a mother—during a child’s formative years impacts the regions of the brain responsible for the ability to form close emotional bonds with others.
This is important because there is a theory that addiction can be treated as a kind of attachment disorder.
It’s also relevant that Slash mentioned “pub culture” because family attitudes about alcohol greatly impact a child’s drinking behaviors as an adult. In fact, they exert more influence than any other factor.
- More children start drinking at home than anyplace else.
- 82% of parents who drink raise kids who drink.
- Likewise, 72% of parents who abstain from alcohol raise non-drinking children.
- Drinking mothers strongly influence the behaviors of children of both sexes.
- 77% of drinking mothers who consume more than one daily beer or glass of wine have children who use alcohol and/or drugs.
- Drinking fathers most affect the behaviors of their daughters.
- Almost 1 out of every 5 adolescents 12-17 with drinking fathers use illicit drugs. This happens even if their father does not abuse alcohol.
- If the child has close blood relatives with Alcohol Use Disorder, they are more likely to drink. Significantly, the more close relatives with AUD a child has, the greater their vulnerability to substance abuse becomes.
“I had long hair, and the schools I went to were filled with kids of bankers and real estate agents. It wasn’t like any of them came from the same background I had.”
~ Slash, talking about being self-conscious in school
His parents separated when he was nine years old and divorced soon afterward. The breakup hit young Saul particularly hard because he started “acting out”. By the time he was a teenager, he was drinking, smoking pot, and shoplifting. He was a self-described “problem child”.
Again, these behaviors are not unusual from a psychological standpoint, because divorce has a powerful effect on young children and adolescents. In fact, children of divorce are at greater risk for:
- Increased use of alcohol
- Higher rates of using/thinking about using more drugs
In addition, children of divorce are frequently lonely and largely alienated. They often struggle with low-self-esteem and have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Any of these negative states of mind can cause a child to seek comfort in intoxicating substances.
“… teenagers often experience a far more rapid progression from experimentation to addiction than is true for adults. Denial manifests differently, too, in that young people are more likely to glorify their use, while adults are more likely to minimize theirs.”
~John Daily, LCSW, CADC II, Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction: The Pathological Relationship to Intoxication and The Interpersonal Neurobiology Underpinnings
Adolescent and teenage substance abuse is a serious problem in America. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every single day, nearly 8000 people try illegal drugs for the first time.
54% – more than half – are younger than 18. In fact, the average age of the first intoxication is just 12 years old.
Even if the drug of choice is “just” marijuana, the consequences can be significant.
- Brain Development – The human brain is not fully mature until the early-to-mid-20s. Marijuana can have long-lasting – even permanent – effects.
- Lowered IQ – Smoking pot before the age of 18 can result in a permanent average loss of 8 IQ points.
- Memory Problems – Daily marijuana usage changes the shape of the hippocampus. This causes 18% poorer scores on standard memory tests.
- Mental illness – Regular cannabis use increases the likelihood of schizophrenia and DOUBLES the chances of psychosis.
- Aggression and Violence – Marijuana use has been linked with a SEVENFOLD increased likelihood of violent crime.
- Anxiety – Teenagers who habitually smoke weed are 3 times more likely to develop some type of anxiety disorder by their 20s as non-users.
- Depression – Non-depressed teenagers who start smoking pot are 4 times more likely to be depressed at a follow-up evaluation.
- Increased Risk of Addiction – Cannabis use before turning 18 results in a risk of addiction that is up to 7 times greater.
- Stronger Marijuana—When Slash was a teen, the average THC concentration contained in marijuana was only around 4%. But today’s strains contain an average of over 20% THC. Extremely-potent marijuana “wax” can be as high as 99.7%.
The Price of Fame
“The drugs got really bad when we didn’t even have to ask for them. Drugs would just be there. It got to be too much. I wasn’t a big drinker at first – I was into cocaine. But when you do coke, you like to drink. It got worse and worse. I had so much coke in the ’80s, I would just throw it away, just give it away. It was everywhere. And then heroin came in, and it all went downhill.”
~ Steven Adler
Guns N’ Roses’ rise to the top was meteoric.
When the band first formed in 1985, they struggled mightily. Months later, in early 1986, they were still all living together in a single 16 X 10 rented room behind a guitar shop. They scraped by on $4 a day.
But that all changed with 1987’s Appetite for Destruction. Buoyed by heavy airplay on MTV, Appetite is the best-selling debut album of all time. To date, more than 30 million copies have been sold.
Their wild lifestyle was played up by promoters. Gig posters hawked that they were “Fresh from detox” and their record label predicted big things from them—“if they live”. Rolling Stone called GNR “a brutal band for brutal times”, and they acquired the nickname “the most dangerous band in the world”.
And it wasn’t an act. With the exception of Axl Rose, all of the band members were serious substance abusers
How bad was it?
- Slash overdosed on multiple occasions, flatlined at least three times, and drank so much Jack Daniels that his tongue turned black.
- Steven Adler, the drummer, suffered 28 overdoses, two heart attacks, and a stroke that left him with a permanent speech impediment. He was eventually fired because of his heroin addiction.
- Izzy Stradlin, the rhythm guitarist, was in a coma for 96 hours.
- Duff McKagan, the band’s bassist, developed acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis at the age of 30. His pancreas swelled to the size of a football, and doctors told him that he would be dead in four months if he did not quit drinking.
- Scott Weiland, Slash’s Velvet Revolver bandmate, died in 2015 after an accidental overdose of alcohol, cocaine, and MDA.
Substance Abuse to Relieve Boredom
“My drug habits were always in between tours because there’s this huge amount of movement and energy and activity that goes on when you’re on the road that you get very much used to, and then it just stops. One thing would always lead to another, and that’s how I would fill my time between tours.”
For any band, life on the road can be a grind. And for a popular band like Guns N’ Roses, it can seem like one long, endless grind. For example, at the height of their popularity, GNR was on their Use Your Illusion Tour, which lasted from January 1991 to July 1993. The tour stopped in 27 countries and there were 194 performances. It remains one of the longest tours in rock history.
But that kind of schedule also takes a tremendous psychological toll—monotony, boredom, and loneliness create an overwhelming need for stimulation. And in the entitled, anything-goes world of rock superstardom, satisfying that need can take an unsavory turn—overindulgence in alcohol, sex, or drugs, for example.
Slash and his bandmates partook of all three.
In fact, Slash has said that he originally got into drug because he was bored—he just wanted to “kill time” while on the road.
In that, he’s not alone.
A Columbia University study determined that there is a definite link between boredom and substance abuse. Significantly, boredom is the #1 reason for relapse among people in recovery. As Michael Levy wrote in Listening to Our Clients: The Prevention of Relapse, “Boredom is extremely pertinent when clients first stop using drugs since they generally have no idea what to do with themselves and feel very lost. Drug use had taken up most of their time, and as a result, they never developed other interests, and leisure activities or previous pursuits have been dropped due to drug use.”
“I seriously used to go through one and two bottles of Jack Daniel’s a night. Easy. Sometimes a half gallon. I used to get up in the morning and I’d just be drunk all the time.”
At his worst, Slash consumed an almost-unimaginable amount of alcohol. His drinking went way beyond a mere “habit” and was instead evidence of a severe drinking PROBLEM. In that, he wasn’t alone.
According to statistics released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
- 86% of American adults have tried alcohol.
- 70% have drunk within the past year.
- Over half CURRENTLY drink.
- 27% engaged in risky binge drinking.
- 7% drank “heavily” within the past month.
- Currently, over 15 million adults have Alcohol Use Disorder.
- About twice as many men have AUD than women.
- Despite those numbers, only a little more than one million people are receiving specialized professional treatment for alcoholism.
Defining a Drinking Problem
“The 1990s are a blur.”
If drinking is such a common social behavior, when does it become a problem?
That can be a fine distinction that most individual drinkers find hard to recognize. In her book Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp wrote “A lot of alcoholics talk about how they look back and can see that they never knew, never really could predict, when they’d get too drunk, when they’d cross the line from what felt like normal heavy drinking into raging, out-of-control drinking.”
AUD doesn’t happen all at once or in a vacuum—it is a progressive disease.
The first warning sign is how much a person drinks. For example, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines “heavy” or “increased risk” drinking as:
- 5 or more episodes of binge drinking during the past month.
Men: 5+ drinks within two hours
Women: 4+ drinks within two hours
- Daily and Weekly drinking
Men: More than 4 drinks/day or 14 drinks/week
Women: More than 3 drinks/day or 7 drinks/week
How much does the amount really matter? Just 2% of people who drink below these thresholds develop AUD.
And to put Slash’s drinking in perspective, there are approximately 17 shots in a fifth of liquor. That means nightly, he was drinking well beyond the NIAAA’s weekly limits.
But consequences also help identify the possibility of AUD:
- Legal complications – Public intoxication, DUI, assault, vandalism, etc.
- School or Work problems – Absenteeism, poor grades or job performance, disciplinary action, suspension, termination, etc.
- Relationship issues – Arguments, separations, break-ups, divorce, domestic violence, child neglect or abuse, etc.
- Health concerns– Blackouts, heart, brain, and internal organ damage, cancer, etc.
- Financial troubles – Prolonged unemployment, unpaid obligations, repossessions, bankruptcy, etc.
But the single biggest warning sign of alcohol addiction is when the person CONTINUES to drink, despite the consequences. In other words, a person with AUD will be unable to control their drinking, even when it is making their life unmanageable.
Alcohol—The Biggest Drug Threat in the World
“I used to drink vodka in the morning like other people drink coffee.”
At his self-reported level of consumption, Slash is lucky that he didn’t suffer a life-threatening alcohol overdose. This is when a person binge drinks until their bodily functions shut down.
Alcohol poisoning kills an average of six Americans a day.
In fact, for all of the headlines dominated by the ongoing opioid epidemic, more lives are lost to alcohol than any other drug.
- Annually, 88,000 people in this country die because of alcohol-related causes.
- AUD is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death.
- Alcohol-related liver disease kills over 19,000 Americans a year.
- More than 30,000 die due to accidents, homicides and other alcohol-involved incidents.
This is not merely an American problem. Per the World Health Organization, alcohol is involved in:
- 3.3 million global deaths—1 out of every 16 deaths.
- That equates to 1 alcohol-related death every 10 seconds.
- Among 20-to-39-year-olds, alcohol plays a part in 25% of all deaths.
Of special relevance, the WHO also reports that alcohol is responsible for over 200 diseases and health conditions.
The Dangers of Heroin of Heroin Abuse
“Heroin was like the ultimate complement to my personality. It just fitted perfectly. Everyone else was doing coke and speed and made hyper people even more hyper. Whereas heroin just made me more reclusive and quieter. It was just me and my drug.”
But as bad as Slash’s drinking was, heroin overtook alcohol as his primary drug of choice. He has even admitted that the drug was exactly right for him.
Slash was—and IS— not alone in his fondness for smack. In fact, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment, there are 329,000 current heroin users in the United States. And while that is less than the numbers of other major drugs, it is more than double the number of users in 2007.
But fewer users notwithstanding, heroin is far more dangerous than most other drugs. Consider this–while there are 10 times as many people in the US who misuse prescription opioids, there are only twice as many fatal painkiller overdoses as there are deaths involving heroin.
And it’s getting worse—between 2010 and 2015, the number of deadly heroin poisonings jumped by 328%. In 2017, there were an estimated 15,446 fatal heroin overdoses in America. This is an all-time high. Of special concern, however, is the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Control estimates that heroin-involved deaths may actually be underreported—by as much as 30%.
“I don’t think any other drug captivated me as much as heroin. I could always take or leave coke or drink – they were never a big deal – but smack just sucked me in. That was my drug.”
Heroin is the most addictive drug on the planet. 1 out of every 4 people who even try heroin will eventually become addicted. And it’s all because of how the drug acts upon the brain.
When someone performs any activity necessary for survival, such as sex or eating, the brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for reward, pleasure, learning, and motivation. After the action, the person receives a reward—sensations of pleasure. Over time, they learn to associate the reward with the behavior, so they have the motivation to repeat the action.
Heroin use also triggers a dopamine response, but the surge is far faster, more intense, and longer-lasting. This “positive” feeling is why the person consciously chooses to use the drug again, at least in the beginning.
But over time, the brain’s dopamine receptors become burned out from the chronic artificial over-stimulation. As a result, the heroin user must constantly increase their dosage to enjoy the same high. This is known as drug tolerance.
Believe it or not, Slash co-wrote a Guns N’ Roses song that addresses this. “Mr. Brownstone” is about heroin addiction and includes the line:
“I used to do a little, but the little wasn’t doin’, so the little got more and more.”
Drug tolerance is dangerous because heavier consumption increases the risk of overdose. Of special relevance, 70% of heroin users overdose at some point.
But an impairment of the reward system affects more than just the heroin response. It also blunts the pleasure the person feels from ANY activity. So, the only way they can feel any pleasure or motivation—or even feel “normal”— is when they are under the influence of heroin. This is known as drug dependence.
Cocaine: Another Bullet in the Chamber
“But I wasn’t only a heroin junkie, I was a coke junkie, too, and I used to trip out really hard. The lowest I went was…(an) episode in Phoenix, where I flipped out on coke, destroyed a hotel room and was all bloody, running around the hotel naked…”
While experts call the current opioid crisis the biggest public health concern in US history, cocaine was the top drug threat during GNR’s rock reign in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Cocaine is almost as addictive as heroin, altering the brain from the very first use. It delivers a powerful euphoric high, feelings of confidence and well-being, and a burst of energy. Depending on the method of consumption—snorting, shooting, or smoking—cocaine can reach and affect the person’s brain nearly instantly.
Coke is popular among musicians and actors because as a powerful stimulant, it keeps the user awake, alert, and energetic. Not only does it help them meet the demands of their hectic schedules, but it also gives them the energy to party even harder.
But chronic cocaine abuse also leads to paranoia and irritability, and each of these played a role in the breakups of both Guns N’ Roses and Slash’s later band, Velvet Revolver. “…every single massive argument between artists was 90 percent of the time fueled by coke,” he says.
Even though it never really went away, cocaine is making a killer comeback. For example, cocaine addiction remains one of the top reasons people got to drug rehab. Between 2015 and 2016, for example, the number of Americans trying cocaine for the first time jumped by 26%, and over 82,000 people went to treatment for cocaine addiction.
Drug Consumption Methods Make a Difference
“I got turned on to it, and that was the beginning of the end, I guess. The first time I did it, I smoked it, and then I snorted it once. But the first time I really got high, I shot. I was that kind of junkie — snorting it wasn’t enough and smoking it wasn’t enough.”
The way Slash used drugs tells the tale of his addiction. His preferred method was to inject heroin intravenously, rather than smoking or snorting. This dangerous practice delivers the greatest possible dosage in the shortest amount of time, resulting in an intense experience.
But IV drug use is also the most dangerous method of consumption, with extreme risk of:
- AIDS/HIV—IV drug users are 22 times more likely to contract HIV.
Discarded used syringes also create a public health hazard.
Addiction Completely Takes Over
“I became very reclusive, really. I found somewhere to live, got hooked up with a dealer and got strung out. From there, I developed this whole crazy, insular existence. It wasn’t even wake up: it was just shoot up. Every moment of my life was spent in the hunt for smack. I was either looking for it, getting it or using it…The only time I left the house was to go cop smack.”
No one ever intends to get addicted…but it happens.
Earlier, we discussed how in the beginning, people choose to drink and take drugs to feel good. However, when it becomes the ONLY way they can feel good, or if using dominates their life, then that is a huge warning sign.
Slash has talked about how his relationship with heroin changed, saying, “I mean, it starts out for fun, and then you use it in between shows, after a show, before the next show, that kind of thing.”
And when drug tolerance and dependence has developed, it shows that the person’s brain has grown accustomed to the presence of the drug. In fact, when they try to quit or the substance isn’t available, they may experience painfully-uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms can be so painfully-uncomfortable as to push the person back into drug use. Despite any good intentions, they will return to drugs and alcohol just to stop hurting. Now, the choice is no longer an option—they drink and use to keep from feeling bad.
“Steven is about as rock & roll a personality as you can get. All he lived for was sex, drugs, and rock & roll—in that order. Maybe drugs, sex, and rock & roll. Then it was drugs and rock & roll. Then it was just drugs.”
~ Slash, describing GNR bandmate Steven Adler
Guns N’ Roses is considered to be one of the greatest bands of all time, but when four of the five original members have serious substance abuse issues, it’s hard to keep up. For instance, drummer Steven Adler’s addiction to heroin and cocaine resulted in his firing.
The band put off recording for a year and a half while Adler was struggling, and he was allowed to return to GNR after signing a contract pledging to stop using. He was unable to honor that promise. While recording “Civil War”, Adler’s impaired performance resulted in almost 30 takes.
Adler was fired permanently in July 1990.
Interestingly, the band’s fifth studio album, “The Spaghetti Incident?” got that title because Adler used to store his drugs in the band’s refrigerator, next to takeout containers of Italian food.
How Mental Health Plays a Role
“…I still have my little quirks and insecurities where I go to a bottle rather than just being sober and dealing with it. I still have those little problems, which are part of a pattern, I guess. But then I haven’t been as depressed as I was. Usually if I’m drinking too much, it’s for a reason.”
~ Slash, in a 1991 interview given before he sobered up
Slash has admitted that his own mental health issues—specifically, anxiety and depression—played a major role in his drinking. His issues highlight the complicated relationship between mental health and addictive disorders.
Overall, about half of people with a mental illness also have a co-occurring Substance Use Disorder, and vice versa.
- Anxiety – 1 out of every 3 people with anxiety also abuse alcohol or drugs, and about the same number of people with SUD struggle with anxiety.
- Depression – Nearly 2 out of 3 alcoholics/addicts exhibit signs of major depression.
- PTSD – 70% of people in alcohol/drug rehab have PTSD.
- Bipolar Disorder – 60% of BPD patients abuse substances.
- Eating Disorders – Individuals with eating disorders abuse drugs and alcohol at five times the rate of the general population.
- Schizophrenia – Teens who use marijuana “heavily” before the age of 16 are 700% more likely to develop schizophrenia. And if they also have a family history of schizophrenia, their personal risk becomes 1000% greater.
Per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there are more than 9 million Americans with a dual diagnosis of SUD and at least one other mental illness.
Less than 1 in 8 ever get the necessary specialized treatment for both conditions.
Overdosing: Multiple Times on the Edge
“… I used a little too much. It was fun for a while, then I passed out in the hotel hallway for eight minutes. They told me later that I died.”
~ Slash, talking about one of his overdoses
Overdoses were all-too-frequent occurrences among the GNR members, including a few that were very nearly deadly. Because they abused multiple drugs, the risk of polydrug poisoning was extremely high. In fact, 75% of all overdoses—and 98% of those that are fatal—involve more than one substance.
This is particularly true for alcohol/opioid combinations. Both are central nervous system depressants that lower blood pressure, heart rate, and most especially, respiration. In effect, an overdose victim will “forget” to breathe.
It can be difficult to distinguish a typical heroin response from the early stages of an overdose because someone experiencing a “normal” high often nods off or passes out. But timely identification is crucial if life-saving reversal measures are to be effective.
- Blue lips/fingertips
- The “death rattle”—Gasping, gurgling, or snoring sounds
- Muscle rigidity
- Foam from the mouth
- Odd behavior
- Skin discoloration: bluish-purplish (light skin)/ashy gray (dark-skin)
- Slow or shallow breathing
- Weak or undetectable pulse
- Abnormally-low blood pressure
- Pinpoint pupils
- Cold or clammy skin
- Tongue discoloration
- Unconsciousness to the point of unresponsiveness
A heroin overdose is a life-threatening emergency, but it takes between 1 and 3 hours to die. This means there is time to summon help and respond with emergency measures such as CPR and Narcan.
Heroin Withdrawal—Dealing with Dope Sickness
“I had a pretty bad habit, so kicking was always rough. The physical part of it is bad enough, but the anxiety part is the worst…It’s like one of probably the most disastrous things that a human being can go through. It’s like sitting on your deathbed all the time.”
Slash was right when he said that about withdrawal. Although in most cases, detoxing from heroin isn’t particularly dangerous, it can be so physically and emotionally harsh as to push a person back into active use.
For heroin abusers, the biggest withdrawal symptom is an overall feeling of being completely unwell—almost as if they have a bad case of the flu. This is why addicts in need of a fix describe themselves as being “sick”.
Other symptoms of heroin withdrawal:
- Severe anxiety
- Fluctuating temperature—alternating hot and cold flashes
- Sexual dysfunction
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of motivation
- Extreme fatigue
- Non-stop yawning
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Profuse sweating
- Runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Copious vomiting
- Uncontrollable diarrhea
- A feeling that one’s skin is “crawling”
- Goosebumps all over the body – this is the origin of the term “cold turkey”
During heroin detox, the worst of the physical symptoms peak between 12 and 30 hours after the last dose. Symptoms usually subside after 5 days, although in cases of severe or long-term addiction, they may persist up to two weeks.
Abrupt Alcohol Withdrawal Can Be Fatal
“There is this perception that I was a drunken brute, which was probably true at some point. But even in my partying days I was just very reclusive and kept to myself. It was just me and my demons.”
Alcohol withdrawal is quite a bit different because abruptly quitting drinking CAN be extremely dangerous—and even potentially deadly. For this reason, a long-term heavy drinker should NEVER stop drinking cold turkey. Alcohol detox should ALWAYS be done under the close supervision of trained medical specialists.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Severe, potentially-fatal seizures
- Dangerously-elevated body temperature
- Irregular heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe headache
- Persistent insomnia
- Mild hallucinations
The most dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptom is delirium tremens, also known as “the DTs”. This symptom is characterized by rapid-onset confusion and severe hallucinations. Without medical treatment, over a third of DT patients die.
Risk factors for delirium tremens include age, long-term alcoholism, and a previous history of alcohol withdrawal.
Chronic alcoholism can result in a dependence so severe that withdrawal can begin in as little as six hours after the last drink. In most cases, alcohol detox lasts 3 or 4 days, but in cases of extreme alcohol addiction, physical symptoms may persist up to a week.
Relapsing During Early Recovery Attempts
“I had a big scare in Arizona once. I had gone to a nice golf resort there to get clean. The only problem was that I took all my drugs with me. I ran out of smack, so I kept shooting the coke instead. Then, all of a sudden, I started hallucinating…I was still delirious when the cops arrived …”
Like a lot of people new to recovery from addiction, Slash’s early attempts at sobriety weren’t successful. He tried to “get clean” on his own terms, rather than admitting that his way of doing things had not exactly been successful up to that point.
This is a form denial—where an addict argues that they don’t have a problem, it’s not as bad as everyone thinks, or that they have it totally under control. In fact, that is the biggest lie that substance abusers tell other people – and themselves – “I can quit any time I want.”
Obviously, the nature of the disease of addiction means they CAN’T.
But a relapse doesn’t mean that recovery has failed. Instead, it can be looked at as an opportunity to adjust the treatment plan, just as is done with other chronic diseases. In fact, when you look at how the relapse rates for addiction compare with other illnesses, a clearer picture starts to form.
Because while it is true that up to 60% of drug addicts suffer a relapse at some point, that is actually in line with the rates among people with:
- Diabetes: 30% to 60% are noncompliant with their diet, exercise, weight loss, and medication plan
- Hypertension: 50% to 70% don’t follow their medication and diet plan
- Asthma: 50% to 70% fail to take their medication correctly
When a person with one of these illnesses “relapses” – i.e., is noncompliant with their treatment plan – no one gives up on them or blames them for being weak or says that treatment is a failure. There is no shame or stigma attached.
Rather, their doctor once again talks to them about the importance of following their prescribed plan and makes adjustments as needed—different therapies, changes in medication, or utilizing the services of a specialist. Hopefully, the person rededicates themselves to working their plan.
This is exactly the proper response when someone relapses back into active substance abuse.
Ready for a Change
“I can’t do it anymore. It’s just I’m not getting anything out of it… I did it to the hilt, and I’m sort of over it. … No matter how good of a party it was, there’s this invisible line it crosses where it becomes a major burden. And so eventually, you just get tired of all of it.”
In 2005, Slash finally got clean and sober, and he has maintained his sobriety ever since. He credits his love of music, his wife, and his children, saying, “I had two kids, and I didn’t want their earliest memories of me to be this burned-out drug addict.”
Slash found his motivation, but too many people must lose EVERYTHING—their families, jobs, money, home, freedom, and their health before they are willing to make a change. This lowest point is called their rock bottom.
Right now, there are close to 25 million Americans struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction. Sadly, only about 11% of them get the help that they need.
“But I also know that if I thought I could casually have a drink or casually do whatever, that would just leave that door open. I know how that works, because I’ve done it before, so I just abstain from it altogether.”
Some people think they can bargain with or control their addiction in ways such as:
- Using marijuana or alcohol instead of “harder” drugs like heroin or cocaine
- Switching from liquor to beer
- Drinking and using drugs only on the weekend
This is flawed thinking, for a couple of reasons.
FIRST, ALL intoxicants impact the brain in similar ways, by affecting the reward pathways of the brain. This means that anyone who is addicted to one substance is vulnerable to all substances of abuse.
THIRD, people tend to make poor choices when they are intoxicated. When their inhibitions are lowered, and their judgment is impaired, good intentions and willpower don’t matter.
Slash seems to understand that as well, saying, “I quit doing drugs. But ’cause I’m a habitual kinda guy, if I quit doing drugs, then I drink. And then if I quit drinking, I do drugs – forever. So, I quit doing drugs this one time, and I decided not to drink too… And I really don’t miss it.”
“[Music] really was my driver, and I think it was really wanting to be able to put all my effort and time [in that instead]. Because you end up spending a lot of time copping and getting loaded…And I think I just got sick and tired of f***ing around with all that stuff. I just wanted to get to music and get back to work.”
In some ways, Slash was fortunate that he had another healthy outlet into which he could pour all his emotion and energy during recovery. For him, it is the best way to cope.
Finding a healthy way to deal with life is an important part of successful sobriety and relapse prevention. Slash has his music, but other people may use other outlets, such as:
“He admitted he had a problem and wanted to work on it, and we said, ‘Look, we’ve all been there, probably worse than you have, so if you want some help we’ll help you,’ and we just worked through it together. We were doing it one step at a time and we didn’t have any visions of the future.”
~ Slash, talking about Scott Weiland
When Scott Weiland was struggling with his addictions, Slash and the other members of Velvet Revolver tried to help him. Ultimately, Weiland’s demons got the best of him, though, because in December 2015, Weiland died of an accidental overdose of cocaine, alcohol, and MDA. He was only 48.
For Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum, the attempt to help Weiland was more than just being there for a member of their band—it could be viewed as their own personal 12th Step of Recovery, which states:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
A growing body of evidence seems to suggest that serving other people during recovery from addiction can provide measurable physical and psychological benefits supporting successful, sustained sobriety.
In other words, helping others – even in small ways – improves a person’s chance of avoiding a relapse and maintaining their sobriety.
A University of Connecticut study examined over 1700 participants adhering to the Alcoholics Anonymous philosophy and who (a) became sponsors, (b) finished their 12th Step, or (c) did neither.
Comparing the three groups, the researchers found that after three months of professional treatment for alcoholism:
- 40% of helpers remained alcohol-free for at least a year.
- Just 22% of non-helpers abstained from drinking.
Rock and Roll Hall of Addiction
“When you can’t climb your way out of such a hole, you tend to crouch down and call it home.”
~ Nikki Sixx, co-founder of Mötley Crüe, in his autobiography, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star
Slash is far from the only musician of his era who fell prey to the rock and roll lifestyle.
- Trey Anastasio (Phish)—Heroin
- Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains)—Alcohol and heroin
- Eric Clapton (Cream)—Heroin and alcohol
- C.C. Deville (Poison)–Alcohol
- Rob Halford (Judas Priest)—Alcohol and painkillers
- James Hetfield (Metallica)—Alcohol
- Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers)—Heroin and cocaine
- Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails)—Alcohol and cocaine
- Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi)—Alcohol and painkillers
- Nikki Sixx (Mötley Crüe)—Heroin
- Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)—Heroin and cocaine
- Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)—Alcohol
There is good news about this Who’s Who of rock musicians—they are all currently sober and in recovery.
A Cautionary Tale
“Because I would bet my bottom dollar that if I was still carrying the same habit I had…there’s no way I could cope with it. It would be too physically and mentally difficult. There’s something to be said for a moment of clarity.”
For someone who was an icon of the hard-partying rock and roll culture, Slash at first seems an odd choice as a paragon of sobriety. But looking at it another way, after everything Slash and his peers went through, he is a living, breathing example that successful recovery is ALWAYS possible.
For his part, Slash holds himself up as a poster child of what NOT to do—her realizes just how lucky he is to still be around when substance abuse has taken so many of his contemporaries. His advice for his fans?
“Don’t do drugs and alcohol—I’m living proof!”