On top of losing the large portion of their income that comes from tours and live performances, many musicians are struggling with addiction during the pandemic.
A Monday Los Angeles Times report leads with one particularly tragic example of an artist’s battle with drug dependency, telling the story of Cady Groves, a 30-year-old country singer who died in May from chronic ethanol abuse. Groves was known to struggle with eating disorders, and had posted on social media before about feeling isolated and anxious in quarantine. But the pandemic made it more difficult for her to seek out and receive help.
“She weighed 81 pounds when she died,” Camus Celli, the head of her label, told the LA Times. “Her body just gave up. In the middle of COVID-19, no one had seen her for months. She was always like ‘Everything’s great,’ but COVID-19 really stripped away a lot of the structure artists depend on.”
Another musician, who asked the LA Times to use the pseudonym Keith, told the outlet about how an old substance abuse problem returned when he was stuck inside all day, unable to go to the recording studio or move forward with tour plans. Keith started having a beer every day at 5 p.m., but the time of day at which he would open the beer crept up hour by hour, until eventually he found himself spiking his morning coffee with Hennessy. The drinking habit made it more difficult to say no when one day a friend offered him cocaine, the drug he had ended his dependency on just before the start of the pandemic.
“Cocaine is like the lover who texts ‘U up?’ and any time, day or night, you know you’re going to answer,” Keith said. “Sooner or later we were chopping up lines, and I ordered two more eight balls, and we did it all.”
Drug deaths in the U.S. have been climbing since 2019, and in 2020 these rates have been exacerbated by the pandemic. In July, the New York Times reported that deaths had risen by about 13 percent, signaling one of the worst years for drug-related deaths since 2016, when fentanyls became more pervasive. Earlier this month, preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed over 81,000 drug overdose deaths during the 12-month period of time ending in May 2020, “the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.”
Anna Lembke, the chief of Stanford University’s Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, told the Times that the pandemic may be helpful for some people recovering from addiction. “Many patients described a kind of peacefulness without the constant hubbub of modern life and the constant triggers they’re exposed to,” she said.
But it’s clear that many, many more people are finding it difficult to stay sober during a time that has intensified feelings of stress, anxiety, and loneliness—and during a time when people who are out of work and struggling to make ends meet haven’t received the government assistance that might help relieve some of these feelings.
“Some of us are doing better than others,” one musician told the LA Times. “This is definitely something artists are talking about. You can feel optimistic and disciplined about mental health and sobriety one day and then the wheels will fall off.”