Best known as the lead singers and songwriters for the band Heart, Ann and Nancy Wilson have left an indelible mark on the music world. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, the band is known for its hard rock, heavy metal and occasional folk sensibility and has even been described by some as the “female Led Zeppelin.” However, life hasn’t always been easy for the Wilson sisters, and in any discussion of Heart, drug use plays center stage.
With Heart, Drug Use Was Always a Concern
The peak of fame came with its cost, and after a roller-coaster ride of success that led them through bandmate tensions, a decline in the early 80s and a full comeback by 1985, the Wilson sisters had seen their share of mental struggle and substance abuse.
“Ah, the whole drug haze of the eighties — It got pretty intense,” said Nancy in an interview with Louder Sound. She explained that drug use never got in the way of her professional life, although it always threatened to add to the existing tensions.
“We were lightweights compared with a lot of people around us that we saw,” Nancy continued, “but drugs were present, and we had our parties, for sure. We had to go there to know where it was to not go.”
While their struggles with marijuana and cocaine may not have been as severe as music industry names like Johnny Cash, the Wilson sisters’ drug use did leave its mark on their careers.
Use of Marijuana and Cocaine
For Ann and Nancy Wilson, drug use started with marijuana, which was shared regularly with bandmates. They acknowledge that they never missed a performance due to intoxication, although they’ve often claimed it affected their mental health.
While marijuana doesn’t carry the same risks as harder drugs, it may cause unpredictable moods that can vary from euphoria to paranoia and anxiety. In more extreme cases, marijuana use can lead to hallucinations or delusions that last from one to three hours. It’s unknown whether the Wilson sisters’ drug use led to any of these symptoms, although this period in their lives was marked by stress and anxiety.
Marijuana wasn’t the only substance the Wilson sisters relied on during their difficult period in the 80s. At the height of their careers, extreme cocaine use began to threaten their physical and mental well-being.
“Cocaine was sprinkled over the albums, the videos and our lives. Cocaine stripped all the humor out of our music. The videos we made were completely without intentional comedy but were so serious they had an almost comedic feel,” Ann said.
The short-term effects of cocaine include increased heart rate and constricted blood vessels, sometimes leading to erratic or aggressive behavior. Irritability, restlessness and panic are all possible outcomes for cocaine users, and it can also be a serious blow to cardiovascular health. Deaths related to this drug are most often caused by cardiac arrest or seizure.
Understanding Peer Pressure
For Ann Wilson, drug abuse went hand in hand with peer pressure. During a period of heavy cocaine use, she said, “Everything we did in those years had a white sheen of powder over it. There were only a few people on our crew, or band, who resisted.”
Drug abuse is common among rock stars. In fact, as many as 62% of rock musicians have struggled with substance abuse at some point in their careers. One of the major factors that caused this epidemic is peer pressure. The music and entertainment industries are known to be driven by networking, and when many others are already partaking in marijuana and cocaine, ambitious young musicians often have a hard time saying no.
The Wilson Sisters Speak on Prescription Drug Abuse
Today, the Wilson sisters find opportunities to speak out against drug use. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Ann Wilson shared her views on the pervasiveness of prescription drug abuse.
“I’ve seen it happen a lot of times to different people. If one little thing goes wrong — say you sprain your ankle. You have to go to a doctor on the road and then you need painkillers and then you need more painkillers and then … that’s how people get in trouble.”
She goes on to describe the abuse of prescription painkillers as a “domino effect of medication” that has affected luminaries like Bob Seger and Tom Petty. In her opinion, it was an addiction to drugs that led to these rock icons’ “undoing.”
The Importance of Sharing Experiences
When facing substance abuse, finding the right words to talk about addiction can often be one of an addict’s best tools. FHE Health has found that celebrities like the Wilson sisters can make a significant impact on mental health. By using their fame to speak out, they can ease the treatment process for those struggling with substance abuse. Rather than promoting the use of drugs and alcohol, they can be role models who promote a healthy lifestyle and well-balanced mental health.
Looking Back on the Ups and Downs
Fortunately, for Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart, drug use was a struggle they were finally able to overcome.
“Looking back now, it’s a mixture of emotions,” said Ann. “It’s always wrong to only remember the bad parts of a hard-struggle time. You’ve got to remember the real sweet times too … Or if you can’t think of that, think of the people who came to see us with those big lit-up eyes, or people who were going to commit suicide but didn’t because they heard These Dreams or whatever and then told us about it.”
Ann Wilson looks back on her career and finds that the most memorable moments weren’t the times when they were high. “Where I’m the most comfortable is up onstage. That short amount of time, where you walk that tightrope and succeed. That’s the great big high.”
If you’re struggling with addiction or other mental health issues, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at FHE Health. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your questions and help you take your first step toward recovery.