Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and 5 Other Country Stars Who Are Sober
While many of their peers are singing about getting drunk and blacking out, these eight country stars opt for a sober lifestyle.
Country music is infamous for paying tribute to the bottle. There's melancholy, depressing ballads, like Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River." And, of course, there's the upbeat, swing-dancing, good-time tunes like Garth Brooks’ drinking anthem “Friends In Low Places” and Dierks Bentley’s boozy tune “Drunk on a Plane.” In fact, the genre is definitely flooded with songs about throwing some back, getting wasted and blacking out. However, not every country singer is on a first-name basis with a bartender. Whether they struggled with and overcame addiction issues or alcoholism or just never picked up the bottle in the first place, these eight country stars are singing sober.
1. Shania Twain
Unlike many sober celebs, Shania Twain has always maintained a substance-free lifestyle. “I’ve never had a drinking problem and never drank when I worked,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I mean, all my teenage years in bars, I never took a drink. I certainly could’ve gone off track many, many times in my youth. Just wasn’t interested.” In the same interview she revealed she was a devotee of Sant Mat — an Eastern mysticism unsupportive of drugs, alcohol and “other poisons.” “I like a clean band. I don’t like drugs. I don’t like alcohol. I like to have clean-living people around me,” she wrote in “Shania Twain: The Biography.”
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2. Keith Urban
Just four months into his 2006 marriage with Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban realized he had to end his lengthy relationship with alcohol and drugs like cocaine and Ecstasy. After two previous unsuccessful rehab stints, his new wife staged an intervention and he checked himself into the Betty Ford Center. “I caused the implosion of my fresh marriage,” he admitted to Rolling Stone. “It survived, but it’s a miracle it did. I was spiritually awoken with her. I use the expression ‘I was born into her,’ and that’s how I feel. And for the first time in my life, I could shake off the shackles of addiction.”
Studies have shown that individuals who complete rehab programs and join support group like Alcoholics Anonymous are less likely to relapse than those who don't seek help.
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3. Tim McGraw
Country superstar Tim McGraw admits he couldn’t get onstage without throwing back a few drinks and that his addiction continued to progress through the years. “I drank too much. I partied too much. And did other things too much. Chemically. No needles or that kind of stuff, but use your imagination,” he told Men’s Health. The star, who recently collapsed onstage due to dehydration (unrelated to drugs or alcohol), “straightened up” and quit drinking in 2008 for his wife, Faith Hill, and their two children. “When your wife tells you it’s gone too far, that’s a big wake-up call,” he continued. “That and realizing you’re gonna lose everything you have. Not monetarily, not career-wise, but family-wise.”
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can definitely strain a relationship. In fact, a 2014 study found divorce rates were significantly higher in marriages where alcohol abuse was present.
4. Steve Earle
Steve Earle’s drug problem was so out of hand at one point that he didn’t try to hide it. “This is Steve. I’m probably out shooting heroin, chasing 13-year-old girls and beating up cops. But I’m old and I tire easily, so leave a message and I’ll get back to you,” was once his self-deprecating answering-machine message, he told Rolling Stone. After a 1994 arrest for drug possession he went to rehab. He has been sober now for more than 22 years and released almost an album a year ever since. “I still go to meetings seven years on, and I sponsor people,” he told The Guardian in 2001 about his sobriety. “That’s what got me through. My life is different now in some fundamental ways. I can only allow things to get so chaotic, whereas before it was pretty much chaos all the way.”
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5. Jason Isbell
During his years with the band Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell had a toxic relationship with cocaine and Jack Daniel's, and it got so out of control he was barely able to play music. In fact, until he cleaned up in 2012, he had never graced the stage sober. “That took some getting used to,” he told Rolling Stone. The musician’s career has continued to soar after rehab, and he has won four Grammys since putting down the bottle. “It’s a direct result of spending more time working on the songs and not being dragged away by things that happen after dark,” he explained.
According to one study, after just one month of not drinking, participants reaped several health benefits and their sleep quality and ability to concentrate improved significantly as well. So productiveness is definitely a benefit of putting down the bottle!
6. Jo Dee Messina
Messina didn’t start drinking until she was 29, but her habit got out of control fast. At the recommendation of her manager she checked into rehab in 2004. “It wasn’t a problem as extreme as I see on a daily basis. Yet it was something that needed help,” the singer told Country Weekly shortly after completing treatment. “I can’t promise that I will never drink again for the rest of my life. Because I can’t possibly see beyond today, never mind next week or next month. But I can make the promise that I’m not gonna drink today.”
According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Addiction, women appear to be more vulnerable than men to many adverse consequences of alcohol use for a variety of reasons and are at greater risk of organ damage and other alcohol related trauma.
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7. Brantley Gilbert
Gilbert's relationship with alcohol started when he was in high school — but a drunken car wreck that landed him in 12-step meetings wasn't enough to get him sober. In 2011 he finally checked into rehab, where counselors introduced him to fellow recovering addict Keith Urban after he threatened to leave. "I told him, I don’t think I can do my job. I don’t know if I can ever play a song at my shows without being (messed) up," Gilbert told the Tennessean. "Or writing, I was worried my songs wouldn’t be the same, that I wouldn’t be on everyone else’s level. It’s a drinking environment.” But Urban assured him sobriety would make him a better performer. “If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be sober or be in this business anymore. I’d probably be dead," he said. Brantley recently celebrated six years of sobriety.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, you should contact your healthcare professional immediately. Alcoholics Anonymous is another great resource, and you can visit their website here