Bob Dylan on Addiction

Addiction 1Welcome to From Insults to Respect. Today’s topic, addiction. When we see we have become addicted to something and find we are having difficulty breaking the habit, we may begin to lose some self respect. And sometimes our actions related to our addictions lead to others losing respect for us. So, it makes sense that we spend a little time giving this topic some thought.

Bob Dylan2Regular readers of this blog know that from time to time I like to enrich some ideas about a subject with some relevant thoughts that Bob Dylan has shared on his Theme Time Radio Hour show. His entertaining mixture of insightful observations with songs, humor, and poetry leaves us with a deeper sense of the topic at hand.

It just so happens that Bob has done three shows on themes related to today’s topic–“Smoking,” “Drinking,” and “Coffee.” Let’s begin with smoking.

Bob’s Show on the Theme of Smoking

Bob introduces his theme on smoking with the background music of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and the following words:

cigarettes 2Today’s show is all about smoking. We’re not here to encourage it or to glorify it. You’re smart enough to look up all the facts.  What we’re going to do over the next hour, is to give a looking and a listen to what happens when the tobacco plant collides with popular culture. As Oscar Wilde once said, “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure; it is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” We’ll be examining tobacco in all of its forms, from plant, to ash, with stops at cigars, cigarette, snuff, and chewing tobacco.  So sit back, smoke em if you got em, and enjoy the next 60 minutes as we blow a few musical smoke rings your way.

Then, Bob launches into a song by Tex Williams and His Western Caravan: Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette):

texNow I’m a fellow with a heart of gold
With the ways of a gentleman, I’ve been told
A kind of a fellow that wouldn’t even harm a flea
But if me and a certain character met
That guy that invented the cigarette
I’d murder that son of a gun in the first degree.

It ain’t that I don’t smoke myself
And I don’t reckon they’ll injure your health
I’ve smoked ’em all my life and I ain’t dead yet.

But nicotine slaves are all the same
At a pleasant party or a poker game
Everythin’s gotta stop
When they have that cigarette.
Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
Puff, puff, puff and if you smoke yourself to death
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate that you hate to make him wait
But you just gotta have another cigarette.

I get a pretty clear sense from that song that the singer is not exactly thrilled with his smoking habit.

Several of the songs that Bob plays on this show expresses a longing for the next cigarette. He tries to explain this longing as follows:

smoking 4One of the problems when you smoke is when you’re not smoking, you can have one of those nicotine fits. Here’s how nicotine fits work. Nicotine is physically addictive; it alters your brain functions. Every nerve in your brain’s nervous system has these very tiny neurotransmitters. Nicotine works on some of them, tricking your body that it needs more of these receptors. When you started smoking, your body started responding to the nicotine, and started growing these extra receptors. Over the years, your body has gotten used to these extra receptors, and needs the nicotine to feed them. When you stop smoking, your body thinks your body’s transmitters have been shut off. Your body seeks equilibrium. That’s what the craving for nicotine comes from. When you have a craving for nicotine, the only thing that will help you, is another cigarette. 
Bob’s description of the addiction process is somewhat simplified, and he may be a bit off when he says that in responding to the nicotine the body starts growing these extra receptors. The theory I have heard discussed in the scientific literature (see HERE) suggests that nicotine tricks your body so that it actually reduces the number of your receptors.
smoking 5Your body does so, according to this theory, because at first the nicotine leads to your receptors firing more frequently than usual. This leads to feeling more alert, which some of us experience as rather pleasant. But your body recognizes that if you were to keep firing those receptors at the pace that occurs when you first started smoking, certain functions in your body will end up exhausted. Thus, your body starts to reduce the number of these receptors. In the scientific literature, this process is called “down regulation” or “tolerance.”
For smokers, we see evidence of tolerance in studies that indicate fewer responses than do non-smokers to the same amount of nicotine (Perkins et al. 2001b). More specifically, we see a reduction on measures of subjective stimulation that may be viewed as pleasurable, such as arousal, vigor, and a subjective experience often referred to as “head rush” or “buzz.”
Once the down regulation process is complete, you end up with enough receptors to function fairly well as long as you are smoking. withdrawal 2However, shortly after you pause from smoking even for a few minutes, you end up not having enough of these receptors to do what they were originally designed to do. It is this shortage of receptors that occurs when there is not enough nicotine in your system to keep your receptors firing at a rate that would typically occur if you were not addicted to the drug that leads to the uncomfortable, sluggish, stressful feelings that lead to a craving for the next cigarette. When you light up, you feel relief because now the reduced amount of receptors are sufficient to carry out your major life functions in a less distressed manner.
The relief that smokers feel each time they give themselves another dose of nicotine creates the powerful illusion that cigarettes help them to deal with stress. Thus, in a study published in the American Psychologist, researchers found the following:

smokingSmokers often report that cigarettes help relieve feelings of stress. However, the stress levels of adult smokers are slightly higher than those of nonsmokers, adolescent smokers report increasing levels of stress as they develop regular patterns of smoking, and smoking cessation leads to reduced stress. Far from acting as an aid for mood control, nicotine dependency seems to exacerbate stress. This is confirmed in the daily mood patterns described by smokers, with normal moods during smoking and worsening moods between cigarettes. Thus, the apparent relaxant effect of smoking only reflects the reversal of the tension and irritability that develop during nicotine depletion. Dependent smokers need nicotine to remain feeling normal. The message that tobacco use does not alleviate stress but actually increases it needs to be far more widely known.

drug withdrwal 1Theoretically, this same process is largely the reason why people become addicted to other substances, such as alcohol, caffeine, illegal drugs, and even the drugs that psychiatrists prescribe, such as the so called antianxiety drugs (anxiolytics), antidepressants, and ADHD stimulants such as Ritalin. They all have the potential of creating for addicted people the illusion that they are functioning better than they did before they started consuming the addictive drug.   

Another major part of the addiction process is that the addictive substance often is used as part of a ceremony creating a very pleasant experience. As an example of this, Bob has us listen to the actor John Cusack explaining his smoking habit:

John Cusack

John Cusack

To me, cigars are a much better situation than cigarettes. Cigarettes are compulsive and cigars are kinda, languid, luminous conversation. Like you’re gonna sit for a couple of hours and talk to somebody. If you gotta smoke, I would say, at least have a long conversation with someone you like, rather than just compulsively sucking down a cigarette. That’s how I’m gonna lie to myself so I can keep smoking cigars.

Although the cigarette habit is not John’s cup of tea, many people have fond associations of sharing a cigarette with others, and drinkers have associations of some very good times hanging out with their buddies. Of course, others have very negative associations with an addictive substance, as one of Bob’s song selections suggests. Here are a few of the lyrics from “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music” by Joe Maphis and Rose Lee:
Joe-And-Rose-Lee-Maphis-Ridin-The-FretsDim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand
Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
You’ll never make a wife to a home lovin’ man
A home and little children mean nothing to you
A house filled with love and a husband that’s true
You’d rather have a drink with the first guy you’ll meet
And the only home you know is the club down the street
Dim lights, thick smoke…
Dim lights, thick smoke…
Well, that should give you a little feel for Bob’s show that focussed on the smoking theme. Now, let’s turn our attention, with Bob’s help, to another addictive substance.

Bob’s Show on the Theme of Drinking

Bob begins this show with the following words:

“Sit down and enjoy yourself as we discuss the world of liquid libation, booze, sauce, hooch, white lightning, fire water, hard stuff, pick me up, gin and juice, moonshine, canned heat. GeorgeWe’re going to start off with George Zimmerman and the Thrills doing “Ain’t Got No Money to Pay for this Drink.”

With a great rollicking sax backing up the lead singer, a few of the lyrics go like this:

I ain’t got no money to pay for this drink,
But boy I need it bad,
My wine headed baby’s taken everything I had.

Here we see a basic theme of addiction; something very upsetting happens to the addicted (my baby’s taken everything I had) and they have come to believe that they have to turn to the addictive substance to deal with the resulting emotional experience. Moreover they will seek the substance even when they no longer have the money to attain it.

After the song, Bob plays us a little audio clip of Ray Milland’s Academy Award winning portrayal of Mr. Birnam, an alcoholic in the movie, “The Lost Weekend.”

Ray“Just give me a drink,” says Mr. Birnam with exquisite anguish.
The bartender, in a disbelieving voice: “Mr. Birnam, this is the morning!”
“That’s when you need it most, in the morning,” Mr. Birnam replies with disgust. “Haven’t you learned that yet! At night, it’s a drink, in the morning, it’s medicine!”

During Bob’s show on drinking, several of the songs show us the dark side of this activity from the perspective of family members. My personal favorite is, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin'” by Loretta Lynn. Here’s a few of the lyrics:

loretta-lynn-dont-come-home-a-drinkingWell you thought I’d be waitin’ up when you came home last night
You’d been out with all the boys and you ended up half tight
But liquor and love they just don’t mix
Leave the bottle or me behind
And don’t come home a drinkin’ with lovin’ on your mind.

Like smoking cigarettes, drinking is often associated with particularly good times, and that’s part of the addiction process. Bob makes this point when he introduces us to American TV host and comedian, Jimmy Kimmel, who tells us why he enjoys beer so much:

jimmy-kimmel-liveBeer is, it’s not just a drink to me, it represents something, it reminds me of being in college and high school, and discovering getting drunk, and having a sixteen pack in the trunk of my friend, Tommy’s car, drinking it hot out of the can in a parking lot in Las Vegas. Something about beer equals good times to me. 

Bob goes on from here to play a couple of songs that bring home this notion that for some, the association of drinking with good times, going out and meeting people, dancing, and partying is all just plain fun. But the vast majority of the songs he plays throughout this show mixes the fun stuff with some pretty sad stuff as well.

Bob’s Show on the Theme of Coffee

Here’s Bob introducing his show on coffee:

600-01606710 © Masterfile Model Release: Yes Property Release: Yes Model & Property Release Woman in Cafe

Welcome to Theme Time Radio Hour, full of caffeinated dreams, schemes, and themes. Pour yourself a hot, steaming cup of joe, cause we’re going to be talking about the amber liquid of life. No matter what you call it, it’s a drink made from a shrub of a tree. I’m talking about coffee. They call it a man’s gold, and like gold, it brings to every person a feeling of luxury and nobility. 

There’s no question here that Bob likes his cup of java as he launches into the Ink Spots doing Java Jives, which is basically a love song to coffee.

Ink+SpotsI love java, sweet and hot
Shoot me the pot and I’ll pour me a shot
Oh, slip me a slug from that wonderful mug
And I’ll cut a rug till I’m snug in a jug
As sweet as a cup of coffee is, for some it’s even better with a cigarette, as Jerry Irby tells us in his song, One Cup of Coffee and a Cigarette:
IrbyHotlineNow when I get up in the morning
And I’m feeling mighty low
There’s just one thing that will pep me up
And I want you all to know.
Well it happens every morning
No matter where I’m at
I just gotta have a cup of coffee
And a cigarette
Coffee, coffee,
And a Cigarette
Is a habit
That you can’t forget…
As most of you know, coffee has, for some of us, some negatives. As examples, it can be moderately costly, it is associated with headaches and sleeping problems, and since it is usually consumed very hot, it may, according to some recent epidemiological data, be slightly related to throat cancer. But most people who drink coffee live to a ripe old age and believe the positive pleasures are well worth dealing with the negatives.

Final Thoughts

Addiction 2Well, there you have it, a little Bob Dylan meditation on the nature of addiction. As I listened to his shows, it came vividly clear to me that many people reach a point at which they decide that they want to get off the merry-go-round of their addiction. When this occurs, what is the best way to go about doing this?

I’ll soon be writing a follow-up post to address this question. I can sure use some help with this, so if any of you have some favorite ideas on this subject, please don’t hesitate to send them along either by making a comment in the comment section below, or on the various social media groups that I participate in.

Hoping to hear from you,
My Best,
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

Bob Dylan On ADHD
Should Dylan Accept Nobel Prize?

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. How insightful and true is this. The wisdom in music of Bob Dylan just makes this article more relevant and can be felt emotionally. As music and the words put to music speaks its universal language. One of my favourite songs on this subject is “”Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt, The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for desert”” How evocative of the loneliness of addiction is that? The song goes on to describe the loneliness felt after a night of indulgence and how all the sounds around and even the “Sunday morning sidewalk”” are reminders of all the things the singer hasn’t got, or has given up to his addiction which, may also be his music(“”songs that I was pickin””) Your comments and those of the Great Dylan, about addiction, the science and the music, must make those of us with addictions, and all of us have at least one, feel more human, more part of this tribe called Humans Beings. And while I am here, of course Bob Dylan must accept his Nobel Prize. Literature is the place we go to seek consolation, understanding and peace for our human condition. because we are human and vulnerable, and have no idea what we are doing on this journey called Life. Every word of wisdom that Dylan has written, spoken or sung helps someone somewhere somehow to understand they are not alone in this. Life is hard and we are all learning. Isn’t that the best kind of literature? Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, I say!!!

    • Thanks, Patricia, for making these connections to Dylan’s music and words. I can tell that like me you’re a huge Dylan fan. May there be more great music coming from him for many years to come.

  2. I’m a person that falls under the spell of a good buzz . I’m also tired of the merry go round just made a commitment to jump off starting with drinks of all sorts, followed by cigs, but coffee is my master. Great job on your writing.

    • Best way to handle addictions is to never succumb to any in the first place!

  3. I succumbed, got off the merry go round starting with hard drugs… I didn’t have to quit the softer ones because going to the hard drugs in the first place took care of that for me. Next stop on the merry go round was cigarettes, been out of that electric stormfor almost ten years. Had a go at shopping, sex.. lastly food. Done with all that now. I have clung to the coffee addiction as one that doesn’t hurt me really, is socially acceptable and doesn’t really cost all that much. I refuse to add creamer or sugar, I’m tired of starting stuff I have to quit.

    • Hi Betty. I’m pleased to hear of your success at moving in some positive directions. Wishing you well. Jeff

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