Johnny Cash’s Struggle with Addiction

“I was taking the pills for awhile, and then the pills started taking me.” – Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash is one of the most recognized names in music. He was a country singer in the middle of the 20th century, but his name is recognized across musical genre. Cash sang such songs as Ring of Fire, Walk the Line, Cry Cry Cry, Folsom Prison Blues, and my personal favorite, Sunday Mornin Coming Down. Like many of the most talented names in the music industry, Johnny Cash struggled with severe addiction problems. Johnny Cash was not only an alcoholic but he abused amphetamines, and he was addicted to barbiturates as well. It was common for singers in those days to abuse speed because they were required to travel far and wide to get to music venues and promotions at a moments notice.

If you know much about Johnny Cash, then you’ve probably heard the story about Cash trying to smuggle over six hundred amphetamine tablets and almost five hundred tranquilizers across the Mexican border. Cash ended up in quite a bit of legal trouble over his addiction, landing himself in jail. Johnny Cash at one point tried to bribe a cop to get him out of trouble for being caught with a big bag of pills. The cop didn’t take the money, instead, Cash spent the night in jail and had to listen to a lecture on wasted talent and how very much he was ruining his own life and the lives of those around him. The cop locked Johnny Cash up and inadvertently helped Cash fulfill his outlaw image. That story always strikes me as absolutely mind-blowing. If someone in that much spotlight tried to smuggle chords of drugs over the Mexican border that person would be in a myriad of different kinds of hells. They would lose fans, they would go to jail for a long time, and they would be abandoned by the celebrity community at large. This just isn’t something a singer can get away with these days. I mean, look at the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s lousy with musicians getting jailed due to drug and alcohol abuse.

In the 2005 movie, Walk The Line, Johnny Cash is portrayed as being addicted to drugs and alcohol. We see him get kind of sloppy with the other artists he’s on tour with, we see him compromise his relationships with his first and second wives, as well as his children, and we see how his addiction threatens his career, but we don’t see the half of it. Cash’s friends called him unpredictable and joked about his erratic behavior, even though these were both symptoms of serious addiction problems. Cash was in car accidents with drugs on him. He fan off of roads, hid in caves. He was confused and difficult to work with. But he was also compassionate, creative, humble. His children remember him as both very addicted to drugs and a normal loving father. This is not to say his addiction didn’t negatively affect his children. Cash’s son followed his dad’s footsteps into the same rehab he attended just a short time after he went there in 1992.

Cash was in and out of recovery for a very long time. His first wife listed his drug and alcohol abuse and addiction as a reason for her request for a divorce. With the help of his second wife, June Carter Cash, Johnny Cash got clean a few times. He was also in and out of rehab. Cash started trying to get off drugs completely in the 1970s. Sometimes Cash was clean for years at a time. Once he had a stretch of seven years where he was completely clean. That was a period spurred by the birth of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash’s only son, John Carter Cash. After John’s birth Cash was sober for seven years. But then after those years, he started again. The cycle would continue on and off for years, in and out of addiction.

Ultimately there’s no way to talk about Johnny Cash without thinking about his whole self, his childhood, young adulthood, first marriage, and so on. Much like with a dual diagnosis, it’s hard to tell what was leading what, the addiction or the mental health issues.

If you or someone you know is or has been addicted to drugs or alcohol you may already know some of the scary ways it can affect the whole life of the addicted person, from halting productivity, to deteriorating the most important relationships, too, like Johnny Cash, getting into real trouble with the law. It can make a person do things they never would have dreamed they’d do.

If you are suffering from addiction, call us now at (855) 441-2449 to learn more about our intensive inpatient treatment or outpatient detox center in South Florida. We are dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our patients. Let us help guide you to the path of sober living


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