“Drugs entered the picture in about ’78, around the same time that I realized that I was out of control with drinking. Well, I thought I was in control, but in reality I wasn’t.”
Stephen King is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation and one of the few masters of horror. Throughout his illustrious career he was written almost 60 novels and a number of other nonfiction and short stories. He’s had a number of his works translated to the silver screen including Shawshank Redemption, The Shining and IT. Despite his incredible work ethic and tenacity, the biggest obstacle he had to overcome in his 45-year career was drug and alcohol addiction, something that plagued him throughout a portion of his career.
“I was drinking, like, a case of beer a night. And I thought, ‘I’m an alcoholic.’ That was probably about ’78, ’79. I thought, ‘I’ve gotta be really careful, because if somebody says, ‘You’re drinking too much, you have to quit,’ I won’t be able to.”
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine on September 21, 1947. King was interested in writing from a young age and was a member of his high school’s newspaper. He graduated from high school in 1966 and moved on to college at the University of Maine in Orono. At university, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper and was active in campus politics, serving on the Student Senate.
Graduating with a degree in English, King moved on to teaching high school English in 1971 while continuing to write short stories and fiction in hopes of landing a book deal.
King eventually received his first book deal in 1973 for his novel Carrie, a story about a bullied teenage girl with supernatural powers that turns her town upside down on prom night. King was encouraged by his wife, Tabitha, to finish the novel after she retrieved the crumpled up first scene out of the garbage bin and told him to keep working on it.
Since then, King’s output has been astounding to say the least. He has published almost one novel every year since 1973, sometimes more than one a year, along with a number of nonfiction works and short stories.
His writing method is unrelenting despite how relaxed it is. He normally forces himself to write at least 10 pages or 2,000 new words a day which he works around his daily chores and exercise.
Following the success he saw from his writing, King began to develop a drinking problem in the late 1970s and eventually turned to using drugs as well.
“I mean, coke was different from booze. Booze, I could wait, and I didn’t drink or anything. But I used coke all the time.”
At lot of the time, he was high on cocaine while writing. In fact, in his memoir, “On Writing”, King states that he doesn’t even remember his 1981 novel, “Cujo”.
“There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page.”
During his time of addiction that lasted about nine years, his novels began to become more influenced by the drug use, not only by, at times, putting the issues front and center in the story, but thematically as well. King said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that his novel “Misery”, which centered on an obsessive fan prisoning and torturing her favorite author, was a direct reference to his cocaine addiction that had imprisoned and tortured him.
“When you’re an addict, you have to use. So you just try to balance things out as best you can. But little by little, the family life started to show cracks. I was usually pretty good about it. I was able to get up and make the kids breakfast and get them off to school. And I was strong; I had a lot of energy. I would’ve killed myself otherwise. But the books start to show it after a while. Misery is a book about cocaine. Annie Wilkes is cocaine. She was my number-one fan.”
Countless King novels are filled with allegorical references to addiction issues. King’s memoir is filled with personal information regarding his period of addiction including King admitting he was an alcoholic 1975 when he wrote The Shining, a story about Jack Torrance a reclusive writer with an alcohol problem that leads to disastrous consequences for his family.
“I was an alcoholic as early as 1975, when I wrote The Shining... [I] began to scream for help in the only way I knew how, through my fiction and through my monsters.”
Although he was able to acknowledge his problems in the mid to late 70’s, his drug and alcohol use persisted. His drug use continued for years until it culminated into what he considers to be the worst piece of writing he published, novel called Tommyknockers.
“In the spring and summer of 1986 I wrote The Tommyknockers, often working until midnight with my heart running at a hundred and thirty beats a minute and cotton swabs stuck up my nose to stem the coke-induced bleeding.”
After writing Tommyknockers, King’s wife, Tabitha, noticing his downward spiral, stepped in to help her husband. His family held an intervention for him in the 1980s.
“Tabby began by dumping a trash bag full of stuff from my office out on the rug: beer cans, cigarette butts, cocaine in gram bottles and cocaine in plastic Baggies, coke spoons caked with snot and blood, Valium, Xanax, bottles of Robitussin cough syrup and NyQuil cold medicine, even bottles of mouthwash. A year or so before, observing the rapidity with which huge bottles of Listerine were disappearing from the bathroom, Tabby asked me if I drank the stuff. I responded with self-righteous hauteur that I most certainly did not. Nor did I. I drank the Scope instead. It was tastier, had that hint of mint.”
King says in his memoir that Tabitha stepping in like she did could not have been easy but was necessary to prevent his untimely death. Stepping in was the only thing she and the family could do. She saw the problem and she reacted. While it was obviously not an easy decision to be so forthright with her husband’s illness, Tabitha most likely prevented King from dying.
“The point of this intervention, which was certainly as unpleasant for my wife and kids and friends as it was for me, was that I was dying in front of them... She said that she and the kids loved me, and for that very reason none of them wanted to witness my suicide.”
After initially speaking with her husband about his addiction issues, he was reluctant to give up that part of his life. Eventually, Tabitha gave him an ultimatum, saying that he can either get sober or leave.
King’s reluctance continued. He negotiated with his wife, asking her to give him two weeks to decide what he would do. Something that he admitted in his memoir showed just how bad of a state he was in.
After thinking on the ultimatum his wife gave him he agreed to go through the recovery process which included attending AA meetings, something that would be referenced in his later work Doctor Sleep, a follow-up to The Shining.
Despite his ability to get clean, King admitted in his memoir that he still has thoughts of alcohol.
“It’s been almost twelve years since I took a drink, and I’m still struck by disbelief when I see someone in a restaurant with a half-finished glass of wine near at hand. I want to get up, go over, and yell ‘Finish that! Why don’t you finish that?’ into his or her face.”
While he has been private about the details of his personal recovery, he has talked about coming back to the one thing that has been constant throughout his life, writing.
“Little by little I found the beat again, and after that I found the joy again. I came back to my family with gratitude, and back to my work with relief—I came back to it the way folks come back to a summer cottage after a long winter, checking first to make sure nothing has been stolen or broken during the cold season. Nothing had been. It was still all there, still all whole. Once the pipes were thawed out and the electricity was turned back on, everything worked fine.”
Stephen King has continued to write novels and other stories that have inspired writers, filmmakers and storytellers for the past 45 years. His stories are still being made into movies and television shows such as “IT” and “11/22/63”.
These days you can find King getting political on Twitter, watching a Boston Red Sox game normally with a book in hand, or, obviously, writing his next best-selling novel.
At Landmark Recovery, our patients are provided with the chance and support they need to find clarity in the fight against addiction. We provide the treatment and medical services needed for individuals struggling with a substance use disorder to gain a fresh start and a new perspective. If your or someone you love is struggling with an addiction,feel free to call our admissions staff to talk about our drug rehab and alcohol rehab.