stephen king addiction

Stephen King: Alcoholism, Drug Addiction And Fame

stephen king addiction

Stephen King: Addiction And Horror Stories

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The American novelist, Stephen Edwin King, is one of the worlds most recognized and successful horror authors of all time. Throughout his journey to fame and during his career, King battled with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Over a span of 35 years, King wrote a total of 63 novels; his stories, including CarrieThe ShiningITMisery and The Green Mile, quickly became best-sellers and turned into Hollywood and television films.

Although King has had much success and is estimated to have a net worth of 400 million to date, the author has had his ups and downs along the way.

In a new biography, King reveals that during the 80s, he spent most of his time binging on drugs and alcohol. So much so, King claims to have no recollection of writing some of his novels during the time period.

A Childhood Escape

King was born in Portland, Maine on Sept. 21, 1947. His father walked out on the family, when he was only 2 years old. Growing up in poverty and being abandoned by their father, King was convinced that his mother would one day abandon him and his brother as well.

‘From a very early age, I wanted to be scared…I wanted an emotional engagement with something that was safe, something I could pull back from.’

– Stephen King, Fresh Air

As a young boy, King found a box of his father’s fantasy and horror fiction books and soon found himself enjoying science fiction as well as monster films. By the time, he was 7, King started to write his own stories.

An insecure child, plagued by nightmares and anxieties; He feared everything from falling down the toilet pipes, to clowns, deformity and developed a paranoia about death. As he grew older, King discovered that he was only able to deal with these horrors in his mind, through writing about them.

Education, Family and Income

After graduating high school, King studied for an English degree at the University of Maine. During his time there, he discovered some consequence-barring ways to escape from his terrifying mental reality.

He began taking drugs such as speed, marijuana and LSD. About a month prior to his graduation, King was arrested after binge drinking at a nearby bar and stealing traffic cones. Such an arrest seems certainly innocent; however, this was a clear-cut warning of the more concerning behavior to come.

‘The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips… I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.’ 

In 1970, he graduated from UM with a degree in English, but he struggled greatly to find a job in the field. Being forced to take a job in a laundry mat, he continued to use any spare time to write his stories.

In the summer of 1970, King had his first child with Tabitha Spruce, a fellow writer from the university. That following January, the two married and would end up having two more children.

Near the end of 1971, King started working at Hampden Academy as an English instructor. When his second child was born in 1972, King and his wife struggled to get by on his minimal income as a school teacher.

‘You have to stay faithful to what you’re working on.’

During the school holidays, King had to work in a laundry mat to assist in paying the bills. Meanwhile, continuing to receive rejection letters from publishers, he grew frustrated as he failed as a novelist.

Then, unexpectedly, in 1973, he sold his first book, Carrie. The novel about a bullied teenager who gets revenge gained a stream of popularity from its readers, making $100,000 on the copy rights alone.

Alcohol, Cocaine and Fame

Given King’s success as a novelist, some may say he is a high-functioning alcoholic and/or drug addict. His emotional and psychological struggles, continued to shade his life even after the sale and success of Carrie.

In an aim to work through some of his pain that was surely felt by his family, he turned to a technique learned as a child. The technique was a belief that if he wrote down his bad thoughts, it wouldn’t happen in real life.

‘One snort and cocaine owned me body and soul. . . It was my on-switch.’ 

Fortunately, King’s writing did help him escape the terrors of his mind. However, it did not stop his obsession to drink and use drugs. Accompanied by his two packs of cigarettes he smoked per day, he would crave anything that drove him more into his writing.

These craving included the cocaine that was so freely available at the parties he attended in Hollywood, as his novels, Carrie and The Shining turned into films.

Drug Fueled Writing

During King’s middle of the night writing marathons, he supplemented the gallons of beer consumed with cocaine. He did so much cocaine, that sticking cotton up his nose was the only way to stop blood from dripping on his typewriter.

By the time his spine-chilling novel, IT, became the best-selling novel of 1986 and he received a critical acclaim for his thriller Misery, the year following, King spent roughly three hours a day sober. Moreover, he mentions spending much of his time, pondering a gun-induced suicide.

‘I love my life and my wife and kids, but I’ve always been somewhat quasi-suicidal, constantly wanting to push things past the edge.’

-Stephen King, UK Daily Mail

With King’s blackouts from alcohol and cocaine becoming more frequent, as time went on, those near to him worried he was hitting rock bottom.

From his perspective, with his best-selling novels being created under a heavy intoxication, thinking about getting clean and the potential harm it may have on his writing was crippling. Ultimately, his years of abusing alcohol and living with drug addiction was driven by fear of writer’s block.

A Road to Rock Bottom

After years of waking in the morning to find her husband sleeping in a vomit puddle aside his desk, Tabitha King decided she was done tolerating the behavior. She searched through his office and gathered all paraphernalia of his obsessive drinking and drugging.

Throwing into a trash bin, cocaine spoons, bags of white powder, bottles of Listerine and empty beer cans; Tabitha brought together their kids and a handful of friends to intervene.

Emptying the contents of the bin on to the floor directly in front of King, she warned of her leaving if he continued to self-destruct.

King realized that if he didn’t change, he would lose his family and even his life. However, it took him several false starts and many broken promises before he managed to get clean.

Writer’s Block to Relapse

When King finally cleaned up, he was forced to face his greatest fear. Initially, his utmost fear of no longer being able to write did come true.

His loyal and loving wife, Tabitha realized that this fear could easily send him over the edge and into a relapse. With the fear of relapse in her mind, she remained by his side through the many painful days and nights.

‘Do it for joy and you can do it forever.’

-Stephen King

She helped him write each word, one at a time; then slowly but surely, King’s ability to write a story returned. As King emerged from his crippling stint of writer’s block, his devoted readers claimed that there was new depth and intelligence to his writing.

Even though, his writing is no longer fueled by his obsession to drink and drug, he is still motivated and focused on telling stories to put to rest his many fears.

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