During the making of the album, Joplin began using heroin again. Friends and family members report that Joplin was always careful with her heroin usage. She made every attempt to be cautious when using and made sure to buy from only one dealer who always had his stuff checked by a chemist. It turns out that the bag Janis bought that Saturday, October 3rd afternoon was not checked by the dealers chemist who was out of town at the time. The heroin was 50 percent pure and would prove to be a fatal mistake. (Rock n Roll Heaven, 2007).
Official investigations into her death tried to blame on everything from a CIA conspiracy to silence the voice of her generation to an intentional suicide, but the coroner ruled that her death came as a result of heroin overdose complicated with alcohol use. Her death was a seriously tragic error. The dealer gave her heroin that was simply too good. Joplins alcohol use was legendary. She was rarely seen without a bottle of Southern Comfort and she appeared on national television drunk in 1970 not long before her death.
Appearing on the Dick Cavett show, Joplin was so drunk she was slurring her words when she said she would be going to her 10 year high school reunion to face her demons and those who tormented her in high school. , They laughed me out of class, out of town and out of state; so Im going back. This was in response to her return home to attend her 10 year high school reunion, her first visit back to Texas since rock and roll stardom had struck. This would be the last time Janis would see her family.
(Rock n Roll Heaven 2007). Even before she achieved fame, Joplin was well-known as an alcoholic. Once she achieved fame, her drug use was just as well known. Joplins choices of drugs were influenced by her upbringing and her generation. Psycotropic drugs and mind-expanding substances were everywhere in the rock scene in the 1960s and Janis Joplin made a meteoric rise to the top of that scene. After being an outcast in high school, Joplin wanted desparately to fit in and would do whatever it took to get there.
Unfortunately, according to the biography written by Laura Joplin, Janis found too quickly that it was lonely at the top and turned to heroin and alcohol as a cure. Joplin discovered the hard way what too many other celebrities have also found out: drug use is no substitute for good mental health. Joplins choice of drugs is especially damning considering what she was trying to escape. Alcohol, though a disinhibitor, is also a depressant and the long-term effects of heroin include depression as well. In short, she was trying to fight off the loneliness and depression of her situation by adding more depressants.
Heroin, at least short term, may have made the loneliness appear less stressful. The short-term effects of heroin is an immediate rush of energy caused by the release of endorphins and then depressed respiration and the desire to sleep for several hours. In her already depressed state, and with the alcohol effects in place, Joplin regularly used the drugs as a way to rest between recording sessions. The problem was that on the night of her death, both the alcohol and heroin lowered her bodys metabolism and it fell so low that the body could not recover.
Joplins pattern of substance abuse began when she left high school and began performing in coffeehouses, bars and anywhere else that would let her sing. She had been an outcast in her high school and looked for a way to fit in with the cool crowd of musicians and those who loved them. She found her answer in drugs. In the 1960s, the drug culture was so prevalent that almost everyone literally was doing it and Joplin found her niche right away. She began with alcohol, a reasonably well accepted drug of choice and then moved on to stronger drugs as she gained more fame.
Joplins primary drug of choice, besides Southern Comfort, was speed. Like heroin, speed provides an immediate rush for the user and can act as a mood enhancer, making people who are lonely or depressed feel better about their situation. It is likely that Janis Joplin used it for this reason and because users report feeling more creative while using speed. This effect is a result of the hyperactivity of the nervous system and people who are taking speed often appear twitch or jumpy. There are no known indications that it does make a person more creative, but that was the message of the drug culture at that time.
The curious question about Janis Joplin is whether her substance abuse began before her music career or after it. Though the legend of Janis Joplin as a hard-living rock star would indicate that she began indulging in drugs after becoming famous, her life would tend to indicate either that she had substance abuse problems dating back to high school or that she had other emotional and psychological factors present in her pre-fame life which mimicked the social repercussions of substance abuse. Prior to leaving high school, Joplin was an outcast, unable to fit in socially with her peers.
She reportedly had behaviorial issues and was eventually kicked out of school for those problems. These issues may have been related to her role as a political activist in the turbulent times of the early 1960s, including her activism on behalf of African American rights in Texas. However, these issues are also consistent with alcohol abuse and other substance abuse. It is completely within reason to believe that Joplin may have developed her dependence on alcohol at a much earlier age than previously acknowledged and began supplementing that addiction with harder, illegal drugs as she gained fame.
Unfortunately, most biographies of the rock superstar are written by friends, family or adoring fans and no one appears to have any desire to make the rock star culpable for any of her own behaviors. Instead, her drug use and sexual excess is put down to the era and the need for self-expression. The saddest realization is that in reality the use of drugs and alcohol probably stunted Joplins creativity and most definitely shortened her lifespan.