November 3, 2023

Elvis Presley & The Cost of Addiction

An image of an Elvis vinyl record, as this article discusses the Elvis Presley addiction

Famously recognized as the King of Rock, Elvis Presley remains an enduring symbol of the 50s and 60s rock-and-roll era. Nevertheless, his untimely demise at the age of 42 remains a subject of controversy today. Although some contend that Elvis died of a heart attack, others speculate that his prolonged struggle with drug abuse played a significant role in his passing.

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For those interested in Elvis Presley drug addiction, read on to learn:

  • Was Elvis a drug addict?
  • What was Elvis Presley addicted to?
  • What drugs did Elvis use before his death?
  • How to connect with addiction treatment in California.
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Did Elvis Presley Have a Drug Problem?

Was Elvis Presley a drug addict” is a question that is still bandied about today. Priscilla Presley’s intimate interview for the David Ritz book Elvis by the Presleys revealed that as far as she was concerned, Elvis never considered himself an addict in any sense. Priscilla emphasized in the book that since all the drugs Elvis took were prescribed, he did not see them as harmful in any way. Priscilla highlighted that this distinction “significantly influenced his perception.

Beyond this, it was revealed that Elvis had actively worked to combat the war on drugs across the United States. This led him to believe that he was somehow exempt from falling into the trap of addiction, causing him to scoff at any suggestion of an Elvis Presley drug problem.

On August 16, 1977, the lifeless body of Elvis Presley was discovered in his bathroom in Memphis, Tennessee. Initially, his physician insisted and the original medical examiner asserted that drugs played no part in his demise. However, subsequent investigations revealed a starkly different reality. Examination of his toxicology reports uncovered traces of 14 drugs in his system, with 10 of them present in significant quantities. The primary substances were prescription medications rather than illicit street drugs like heroin. Among the drugs found were:

  • Codeine, known for alleviating moderate pain and often found in prescription cough medication.
  • Morphine, a controlled and highly addictive opiate.
  • Methaqualone (Quaaludes), a sedative and hypnotic substance  often abused for recreational purposes in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Diazepam (Valium), a benzodiazepine commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia.

Additionally, his reliance on a high number of barbiturates and benzodiazepines, revealed through the autopsy, highlighted the grave dangers of mixing these highly addictive substances. The findings demonstrated that elevated doses could depress the nervous system to the extent of fatal outcomes, as evidenced by suppressed breathing and heart rate. Notably, the excessive amount of codeine detected in Elvis’s body was over 30 times higher than the recommended dosage.

While it was feasible for a figure of his stature to acquire these drugs illicitly, the evidence suggested that Presley had access to these medications through legal channels. Setting aside the issue of addiction, then, Elvis Presley drug use clearly played some role in his untimely demise.

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The Dangers of Prescription Drug Addiction

Looking back, the undeniable role of drugs in Presley’s demise emerged, despite his doctor’s attempts to conceal his misuse and his contradictory stance as an anti-drug advocate. Initially, the original autopsy report attributed his death to cardiac arrest, a claim swiftly contradicted by a more comprehensive investigation, which uncovered the staggering mix of drugs he had ingested in the hours leading up to his passing.

Prescription medications, although legally available, can pose significant risks when misused or abused. Presley’s case illuminates the potential dangers of relying excessively on these substances. Despite the initial legitimacy of his prescriptions, their prolonged and unchecked use eventually led to detrimental consequences, further exacerbating his health issues.

While his sudden death sent shockwaves, those familiar with Presley’s life were perhaps not entirely surprised. In 1973, he had been hospitalized for pethidine addiction and experienced two barbiturate overdoses in the same year. Toward the end of his life, he battled weight gain and reportedly suffered from various complications associated with drug addiction, including glaucoma, liver damage, and high blood pressure.

Prescription medications, including the barbiturates and benzodiazepines that Presley heavily relied on, can create a false sense of security due to their legal status, often leading to underestimation of their potential for addiction and harmful effects when taken inappropriately. It serves as a poignant reminder that even medications prescribed by professionals can become lethal when not used with caution and under strict supervision. Presley’s tragic story underscores the critical importance of responsible and vigilant management of prescription drugs to prevent such devastating consequences.

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Get Treatment for Drug Addiction Today at Gratitude Lodge

Gratitude Lodge in Southern California specializes in tackling drug addiction and mental health conditions. With pet-friendly rehab centers in Newport Beach and Long Beach, CA, we prioritize comprehensive recovery for the body and mind.

Our supervised medical detox program ensures a safe and seamless detoxification process, paving the way for a 30-day inpatient program. Our treatment interventions encompass a range of effective approaches, including MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, group therapy, individual counseling, family therapy, holistic therapies, and comprehensive aftercare. For a smooth transition from active addiction to sustained recovery, reach out to Gratitude Lodge. Contact our admissions team at 888-861-1658 to take the first step toward a healthier and addiction-free life.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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