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Symphonie Addictique?

0 Robert Levine

Normal Lebrecht recently linked to an article about a British documentary on addiction amongst orchestral musicians:

Addiction is blighting the lives of many classical musicians as they grapple with performance anxiety and antisocial hours, a cellist has said.

Rachael Lander features in a Channel 4 documentary that brings together classical musicians whose careers have been derailed by drug and drink problems.

The cellist, who was addicted to alcohol and prescription pills, said the problem was rife in the classical music world.

Lander, who began drinking to self-medicate her concert hall panic attacks, told Radio Times: “Addiction problems are widespread among classical musicians, for many reasons.

“There is the lifestyle, the odd hours, working weekends, post-concert socialising. Many players use alcohol and beta-blockers to control their performance anxiety and then, after the ‘high’ of a performance, musicians can struggle to ‘come down’ and therefore drink to relax – which becomes habitual.”

I don’t know of any research done in this country on the subject of substance abuse amongst orchestra musicians. English orchestral musicians have long had the reputation - whether fairly or not - of being heavier drinkers than seems to be the norm in North America. But this documentary hardly qualifies as “research.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen fewer substance abuse problems in the orchestras I know well than seems to occur in society as a whole. And the use of beta-blockers to treat performance anxiety qualifies neither as “substance abuse” nor “addiction.” Technically, it’s off-label use, usually at dosages far lower than prescribed for its nominal purpose. Such off-label use of prescription drugs is both legal and accepted within the medical profession. “Addiction” implies a physiological dependency that beta-blockers simply don’t create. If they did, they would be classed as Schedule I or Schedule II drugs, and they’d be a pain to get.



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