Personal Life and Recent News

by Elise O.

This chapter is a free excerpt from Biography on Stephen King.

Drug Addiction

Stephen King began abusing alcohol when he was sixteen years old. He cites his early childhood unhappiness as the catalyst for his substance abuse. Later, after King had established himself as a number one writer while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he feared quitting drugs would end his career. With the help and support of his family and friends, King continues to maintain his sobriety by attending AA meetings regularly.


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Drug Addiction

Stephen King began abusing alcohol when he was sixteen years old. He cites his early childhood unhappiness as the catalyst for his substance abuse. Later, after King had established himself as a number one writer while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he feared quitting drugs would end his career. With the help and support of his family and friends, King continues to maintain his sobriety by attending AA meetings regularly.

Though King was drinking in high school, he turned to harder drugs while attending the University of Maine. There, King experimented with marijuana, speed, and LSD. His experiments with drugs and drinking were not without consequences. Just before graduation, King was arrested for stealing traffic cones during a night of heavy drinking.

Before King found professional success as a writer, he and his wife struggled to make ends meet during the early 1970s. He balanced working at a laundry mat and teaching high school English while Tabby watched Naomi and Joe. The stress of having children at a young age and professional dissatisfaction weighed heavily on King during this period. King says he dealt with his poverty and unhappiness by drinking heavily.

It seems by the time King did achieve success, his coping mechanisms were firmly in place. Even after Carrie was a commercial in hit in 1973, earning enough to lift the King household out of poverty, King continued to abuse drugs. Friends say that King would drink during book signings and that he could finish eight beers in the time is took anyone else to finish two beers. In fact, King himself admits he spent most of the 1980s so intoxicated that he does not remember writing some of his books. Tabitha occasionally kicked King out of their home, but King was unable to stop abusing drugs for good.

During the movie premiers of Carrie and The Shining, King also indulged in cocaine. In an interview with the Daily Mail, "Stephen King's Real Horror Story," King recalls that "[o]ne snort and cocaine owned me body and soul…[i]t was my on-switch, and it seemed like a really good energising drug."

Between cigarettes, cocaine, and alcohol, King was so addicted that he was only straight and coherent a few hours a day. He snorted so much cocaine that he had to stuff his nose with cotton balls to stop the bleeding. King even began drinking mouthwash solely for its alcohol content. However, even in his darkest hours, King produced the best-selling novel of 1986, It, as well as the critically acclaimed Misery. Though King was able to churn out hit after hit, his life was increasingly ruled by drugs.

Eventually, in 1988, Tabitha King put an end to her husband's downward spiral of addiction. Tired of seeing her husband passed out beside his own vomit, King's wife took matters into her own hands. She gathered up all of her husband's drugs and staged an intervention with Stephen's family and friends present. When he was faced with the physical evidence of his drug use, King agreed to seek help. King admits that the recovery process was slow and difficult, but he has quit drugs and alcohol for good.

Now the only remaining vice in King's life is cigarettes. Currently King still smokes three cigarettes a day. Though he was able to kick much stronger substances, King says that he is unable to quit smoking. In his interview with The Paris Review, King said that he smokes "one [cigarette] in the morning, one at night, one in the afternoon. I do enjoy my cigarettes. And I shouldn't. I know, I know."

In the years following his drug addiction, King proved to himself that he could still produce quality material without the help of drugs. The Green Mile and Lisey's Story are both examples of well-received books King penned without dope, cocaine or booze. Though King found sobriety over twenty years ago, King does not avoid discussing his past in interviews. He continues to go to Alcoholics Anonymous regularly to curtail temptations to abuse drugs again. King believes that with the help of his wife and the community at AA he will continue to live alcohol and drug free.

The Accident

For years, part of Stephen King's writing routine included daily walks. King thought that walking was helpful to clear his head and to ruminate over key plot developments. Sometimes, though, King walked merely to enjoy nature and get some exercise.

One day in 1999, King was taking a walk along Route 5 in Maine. When King recalls that day, he says he was thinking about going out later with his wife and his son. Suddenly, a van that had strayed off the highway hit King at a high speed. King went numb until he was airlifted to a nearby hospital. The accident severely damaged his internal organs and he had several broken bones. He spent months in the hospital recovering, and the pain continued in the years following the accident.

During his recovery, King was forced to battle old demons. After struggling with drug addiction in his past and finally living a clean life for several years, King was prescribed numerous pain medications during his recovery. In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) entitled King said, "[I woke] up in a hospital bed [with] a phenyltol patch…jacked up on morphine…all these different medications. I was as grossed out by that, I think, as I was by the injuries, thinking, 'My God, I'm a junkie again." King carefully monitored his medications to make sure he did not use more than the recommended dosage.

During his recovery period King also finished On Writing, an autobiography and a guide for aspiring writers. When asked about this period, King says he learned a lot about himself. Understandably, though, if he were given the choice, he would prefer to never have been in an accident: "[i]f somebody had walked up to me and said, 'Well, Steve, you can continue to live the same old, boring, healthy life and you won't have any real, new experiences and you can retire at 55, or you can go for the car accident… immediately I would say, 'Give me the boring life.'"

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