drugs in music

David Bowie in the ’70s. Guns N’ Roses in the ’80s. Nirvana in the ’90s. Snoop Dogg in the 2000s. As it turns out, sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll are here to stay. Unfortunately for the musicians and the fans tuning in, there may be a strong link between drug messages in music and drug misuse among teenagers.

According to recent research out of the University of Pittsburgh, certain types of media, namely music, are associated with the increased use of certain drugs among young people. Researchers concluded certain drug misuse “was linearly and independently related to music exposure.”

With “music … being consumed at record levels across the world” and over 317 billion streams in the U.S. alone, according to the most recent Global Music Report from music representation firm IFPI, exploring the link between music and drug misuse is more relevant than ever.

We analyzed over 1 million songs for mentions of alcohol, benzodiazepines, prescription painkillers, ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana misuse and the slang terms related to them, then made connections to how these mentions could relate to actual drug misuse among teenage listeners. Here is what we found.

The Top Artists in Mentions

sings about substance use
We analyzed drug mentions among musicians and found six of the top 10 artists were musicians with Billboard Top 100 hits. This indicates some of America’s most popular artists are contributing the most drug-related tunes to young listeners.

Rap and hip-hop music acts were more likely to mention drugs in their lyrics than other genres. In fact, all acts in the top half of the list (Kendrick Lamar, Too $hort, Master P, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony) were in this genre save for one – Rihanna.

Pop star Rihanna, who was responsible for No. 1 hits such as “We Found Love,” had a greater number of drug references in her music than six of the 10 total artists listed. This might be due to the material of her more recent studio albums, one of which Billboard called “cruder” than some of her previous music. Before then, Rihanna’s most notable foray into substance-laced lyrics was most likely 2011’s “Cheers (Drink to That).”

Some of Rihanna’s biggest fans are minors, undoubtedly listening to her lyrics and trying to emulate the lifestyle she sings about. In fact, 4,000 people worldwide use Google to search for the phrase “Rihanna Drugs” each month. Tack on mentions of marijuana use throughout her Instagram and Twitter feeds and it becomes clear that she is making drug use in the music industry seem commonplace.

Substance Mentions in Songs, by Type

substance mention type

Most Mentioned

Among the songs analyzed for drug mentions, alcohol was the most referenced substance with its 51.4 percent of total mentions. Marijuana followed with mentions at 24.9 percent. Cocaine and references were less frequent at just over 7 and 6 percent rates of mention, respectively.

Least Mentioned

The least mentioned drugs continued in the following order: heroin (4.9 percent), ecstasy (3.7 percent), prescription painkillers (1.0 percent), and benzodiazepines (0.5 percent).

The percentages of total drug terms mentioned per substance type were the most telling in that they showed alcohol and marijuana mentions as being most popular. This would appear to fall in line with results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report, which identifies alcohol and marijuana misuse as prevalent health-risk behaviors.

A study conducted by the Council on Communications and Media regarding the impact of music on children and teens concluded that exposure to drug use in music videos and lyrics could produce significant changes in the behaviors of a young audience. “The effect that popular music has on children’s and adolescents’ behavior and emotions is of paramount concern,” the study concluded. “Lyrics have become more explicit in their references to drugs, sex, and violence over the years, particularly in certain genres. A teenager’s preference for certain types of music could be correlated or associated with certain behaviors.” It becomes clear through research such as this that a younger audience is more susceptible to influence via music than adults.

The Rise in Drug Mentions Over Time, by Type

rise of use in music
Perhaps due to its legality and popularity, it’s clear why alcohol makes the top of our list for mentions. However, another substance – illegal and potentially more lethal – is slowly creeping toward the front of the pack. Cocaine.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, cocaine appears to almost catch up to alcohol and marijuana mentions. According to research from Gallup during that time, the introduction of cocaine and the disastrous events that followed placed it at the top of public drug concerns.

Another look at the chart shows an overall rise is substance mentions from 1960 to 2016; however, it may be helpful to consider the availability of music in the U.S. has increased to the tune of 317 billion streams due to improving production and distribution technology. In fact, one study concluded that at-risk youth listen to an average of up to 6.8 hours of music each day.

Artists Singing About Drugs, by Type

artists and substances

The availability of music in a wide variety of genres, while a positive step toward artistic expression, can also open up new opportunities for musicians to sing about any topic regardless of commercial viability. We found some artists took the liberty to express drug and alcohol use more than other artists. This list shows the top five artists who mentioned substances in their lyrics.

Rihanna ranked No. 1 for alcohol mentions in her music, and surf-rocker Bert Susanka topped the list of lyrical mentions of benzodiazepines. Rapper Too $hort referenced cocaine the most in his music.

For ecstasy mentions, hip-hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony had the greatest amount, while pop star Prince held the top position for heroin references. The most marijuana, methamphetamine, and painkiller mentions all went to rappers: Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Busdriver respectively.

For some artists, there was more than one appearance on the top mentions list by type. Kendrick Lamar and Eminem both ranked in the top five for three different substances. Lamar placed in the top five mentions of alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana. Eminem placed among the top five mentions of benzodiazepines, methamphetamines, and painkillers.

These musicians all have one thing in common: a young audience. With teenagers easily swayed by the images they see in their favorite shows and movies and the lyrics they hear in their favorite songs, it’s no wonder researchers are trying to determine if pop culture can really influence a young person to misuse drugs and alcohol.

Learn to Break the Addiction Link

While music may be a link in the chain of factors influencing a young person’s understanding of drugs and alcohol, it’s only a single link. The list of factors affecting a teen’s introduction to substances is long and includes television, social media, peer-to-peer conversations, and what a teen witnesses at home.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drugs or alcohol, you can find assistance today. At Townsend Treatment Centers, we provide a personalized approach to recovery that is customized for your individual needs. Please visit our homepage at Townsendla.com to learn more.

Methodology

We queried a lyric database of 1,129,911 songs from songmeanings.com for mentions of substances and related terms. The terms we searched included marijuana, ganja, hashish, weed, grass, dope, pot, hash, cocaine, yeyo, yayo, nose candy, coke, blow, methamphetamine, amphetamine, meth, crystal, fifi, heroin, China white, smack, MDMA, XTC, ecstasy, molly, alcohol, beer, wine, whiskey, rum, tequila, bourbon, liquor, scotch, vodka, lager, absinthe, mojito, martini, LSD, steroids, opiate, opiates, opioids, opioid, opium, roxy, codeine, OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, and Adderall. We identified 5,787 instances of lyrics with mentions.

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