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Legendary Musician Ray Charles Battled Decades-Long Heroin Addiction

One of music’s all-time legends, the late Ray Charles, battled heroin addiction for many years – an addiction that many believe affected his life more than losing his eyesight ever could. Ray Charles, from his birth, faced serious challenges – including a childhood set in poverty in the racially-charged south of the 1930s, to witnessing the tragic drowning death of his young brother, to losing his eyesight as a boy. He began putting his interest for technical and mechanical things to work in music as a young boy as well, starting with the piano at a local café and then more fully developing his musical talent while attending the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. At the age of ten, Ray Charles lost his father, and then his mother passed away only five years later. He was raised by friends of his parents in Florida, and played with various local bands as a young adult. Citing depression over the death of his brother and his parents, Charles began a heroin addiction that would span decades during his teen years. Like other people with substance abuse histories, Charles’ addiction to the incredibly potent drug heroin is said to have begun with marijuana, known as a common “gateway” drug. As a young man performing on the piano in clubs, managers are said to have given him marijuana to help soothe performance anxieties. Marijuana then crossed over to heroin addiction as Charles became what is typically called today a “working addict” – someone who maintains employment while also enduring substance abuse addiction. In his mid-thirties, Charles marked his third arrest for possessing heroin, although he had been using the drug for more than two decades. Attending a rehab facility in Los Angeles prevented the musician from spending time in jail for the arrest. In 1966, Charles completed a year on parole for drug violations, continuing to produce chart-topping hits. His career also included serving as a spokesperson for a major beverage company, global civil rights initiatives, invitations to presidential inaugurations and acting performances. As is common with drug addictions among celebrities and non-celebrities, Ray Charles attended rehab centers more than once but continued to battle his heroin use. Heroin is among the most powerful drug addictions, requiring medically-supervised assistance to begin the detoxification process and treatments at a professional residential treatment center. In the mid-1960s, Charles is said to have finally ended his addiction with heroin, but the legendary star is alleged to have been linked with a habitual use of alcohol. Portrayals of his life, including the movie “Ray,” point to depression and struggles like poverty and family tragedy as precursors to his long-time drug addiction, which many say may have caused the star much more hardship than the loss of his sight. While it is extremely difficult to end a drug addiction, sometimes requiring several attempts to quit, recovery can – and does – happen, as demonstrated by Ray Charles’ story. A combination of professional rehab-based treatment and peer support are essential to success, as is a desire to start a life without the bondage of addiction.

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