Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea discusses the “baffling” power of drugs

Red Hot Chili Peppers, like countless other rock bands, have had their fair share of drugs battles. After the success of the group’s fifth album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, guitarist John Frusciante found himself struggling with the weight of success. “It was too high, too far, too soon,” he once said. “Everything happened — or better, everything seemed to be happening — at once, and I just couldn’t cope with it”.

Heroin soon consumed his life, making his presence in the band completely unsustainable. Anthony Kiedis’ struggles with narcotics are no well less documented. But it is perhaps Michael Balzary, more commonly known as Flea, who boasts the most battle scars in this area. No wonder, then, he has given so much insight into the detrimental effects of heroin over the years – he’s felt them first hand, after all.

Flea’s reliance on drugs, he has said in the past, was a foregone conclusion from the outset. “I’ve been around substance abuse since the day I was born,” he once said. “All the adults in my life regularly numbed themselves to ease their troubles, and alcohol or drugs were everywhere, always. I started smoking weed when I was eleven, and then proceeded to snort, shoot, pop, smoke, drop and dragon chase my way through my teens and twenties.”

Having surrounded himself with fellow users, Flea witnessed the full effect of heroin addiction. After turning 30, by which time he’d already seen three of his friends die – one of whom was River Phoenix – he decided to kick his habit once and for all. Three years later, in 1996, he ruminated on the all-consuming power of the opioid. “As long as there are people on this planet, there’ll be people doing heroin, or something just lie it,” he began. “Drug addiction is such a baffling, powerful thing. It’s so difficult to understand how people can reach such a level of insanity and hurt themselves so bad. And especially kind, sensitive, smart, creative people. I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve had three close friends die, including River. I’m dealing with it right now with someone I love.”

Flea’s experience with addiction has made him sensitive to the importance of helping those struggling to seek help. As recently as 2018, he urged the government to put more emphasis on tackling the opioid crisis sweeping America: “Addiction is a cruel disease, and the medical community, together with the government, should offer help to all of those who need it,” he said. “Life hurts. The world is scary and it’s easier to take drugs than work through pain, anxiety, injustice and disappointment.”

Thankfully, Flea was able to break this vicious circle, but he has confessed that it’s not an easy road, especially for those who admit themselves to rehab: “They nearly die detoxing. Trying to give someone hope and faith again after they lose it to drugs, it’s such a scary, scary thing.”

Eventually, however, Flea found himself in a position to help other addicts and has been doing so ever since, even if that just means giving advice: “By starting with gratitude for the rough times, and valuing the lessons of our difficulties,” he said, adding: “We’ve got the opportunity to rise above them and be healthier and happier individuals who live above the strong temptation of addiction.”

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