The perils of flying too high: What we can learn from Icarus when it comes to addiction

In Greek mythology, the story of Icarus is a tale of ambition, hubris, and the catastrophic consequences of defying one’s limits. It can also be seen as a profound allegory for understanding the battle against addiction. Just as Icarus soared too close to the sun, individuals grappling with addiction often pursue their own highs, reaching dangerous heights before plunging even lower.

The Myth of Icarus

The Icarus myth (originally from Ovid’s Metamorphoses) tells the tale of Daedalus, a craftsman and inventor who lived on the island of Crete. King Minos of Crete employed Daedalus to build the Labyrinth, a maze that imprisoned the monstrous Minotaur. To keep the Labyrinth’s layout a secret, King Minos had Daedalus and his son imprisoned in a tower on the island.

Daedalus and Icarus were trapped in the tower. Daedalus devised a plan to create wings for himself and his son fashioned from feathers and wax. He warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun or too close to the sea, as both extremes would be dangerous. He emphasised that they should follow a moderate and steady path through the air.

When the wings were ready, Daedalus and Icarus prepared to make their escape. Daedalus carefully fastened the wings to Icarus’ back and to his own.

Icarus, overcome with the excitement of flying and the sensation of freedom, ignored his father’s warnings. He soared higher and higher, flying towards the sun. The wax on his wings began to melt as he approached the sun. Icarus realised too late that he was in trouble, and his wings fell apart. He plummeted from the sky and into the sea, where he drowned.

The story of Icarus serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris, disobedience, and the consequences of ignoring wise counsel. It illustrates the idea that recklessness and overconfidence can lead to tragic outcomes.


Parallels Between Icarus’ Flight and Addiction

Addiction, whether to drugs, alcohol, or certain behaviours, often begins with a yearning for euphoria or escape from current circumstances. Just as Icarus desperately desires to reach the heavens and experience the ecstasy of flight, individuals trapped by addiction yearn for the high of their chosen substance. These aspirations are rooted in the pursuit of pleasure and liberation.

Just as Icarus ignored the clear warnings from his father, people dealing with addiction often disregard the signs and advice from loved ones, therapists, or healthcare professionals. They may downplay the risks and consequences of their substance abuse.

Additionally, Icarus’ flight took him higher and higher until he reached a point of no return, causing his wings to melt. In addiction, individuals often experience a pattern of escalating substance abuse. They may need increasing amounts of a drug to achieve the desired effect, which can lead to more risky and destructive behaviour.

Icarus ended up paying a tragic price for his recklessness as he drowned in the sea. People suffering from addiction also face severe and oftentimes fatal consequences, including physical and mental health problems, broken relationships, legal troubles, and, in the worst cases, overdose and death.

However, Daedalus found refuge in Sicily after Icarus’ tragic death. Similarly, individuals who hit rock bottom due to addiction can find hope and a path to recovery. Treatment, therapy, and a commitment to change can help them regain control of their lives and work toward a healthier future.

The Descent Towards Addiction

Much like Icarus’ gradual descent towards the sea, the journey through addiction is rarely smooth. It typically starts with experimentation. A casual drink, occasional use of party drugs, or a venture into risky behaviours. This initial exploration mirrors Icarus’ ascent – thrilling and promising liberation.

But as Icarus soared towards the sun, he lost control, as do those battling addiction. The gradual loss of control over their chosen substance or behaviour is a defining characteristic of addiction. What starts as a choice morphs into a compulsion, leaving individuals helpless in the face of their cravings. The once manageable pursuit of pleasure evolves into an insurmountable burden.


The Tragic Fall and Rock Bottom Experiences

Icarus’ tragic fall from the sky into the sea mirrors the rock-bottom experiences that many individuals with addiction encounter. These rock-bottom moments, often characterised by loss, suffering, and a sense of hopelessness, are the tragic culmination of addiction. Just like Icarus met his downfall when he could no longer sustain his flight, those suffering from addiction can reach a point where the consequences of their actions become unbearable.

Similar to most temptations, the lure of addiction might promise euphoria and escape, but it extracts a heavy cost. Relationships become damaged, health deteriorates, and life descends into chaos. The temptation to soar ever higher into addiction ultimately leads to a harrowing fall into despair.

Jimi Hendrix: The real-life Icarus

Jimi Hendrix was a musical genius known for his groundbreaking guitar skills and influential music in the 1960s and early 70s. He soared to immense heights of fame and success in the music industry, and his talent was celebrated worldwide. However, much like Icarus flying too close to the sun, Hendrix pushed the boundaries in various aspects of his life, including substance abuse.

As his fame and success grew, Hendrix began drug experimentation, particularly psychedelic substances like LSD and marijuana. While these experiences may have contributed to his creative output, they also led to more destructive behaviour, including the use of harder drugs like heroin.

Hendrix’s drug use eventually took a toll on his physical and mental health, as well as his relationships with family, friends, and fellow musicians. He experienced frequent periods of unreliability, missed concerts, and studio recording sessions, which frustrated his collaborators and fans.

In September 1970, at the age of 27, Hendrix tragically passed away in London due to asphyxiation from vomit, which was linked to a combination of alcohol and barbiturates. His death marked the abrupt and devastating end to a remarkable career and life.

In the case of Hendrix, his remarkable rise to fame and artistic success could be likened to Icarus’ soaring flight. However, his unchecked drug use, much like Icarus flying too close to the sun, led to his downfall. The story of Jimi Hendrix serves as a tragic real-life example of how unchecked drug addiction can lead to the untimely end of a talented individual’s life and career. It underscores the importance of maintaining boundaries, seeking help when needed, and avoiding the perils of substance abuse.


Introducing Recovery and Healing: Avoiding Icarus’ Fate

Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun or the sea, emphasising the importance of boundaries, balance and moderation. For individuals with alcohol addiction, for example, setting clear boundaries and adhering to them is crucial for recovery. This might initially involve establishing limits on consumption or seeking support from others to help maintain these boundaries.

In the context of more severe drug addiction, however, maintaining very strong boundaries requires practising self-discipline and the ability to completely resist urges and temptations. It means recognising when to say “no” and exerting control over our actions.

Icarus also ignored the consequences of disobeying his father’s warnings and paid a heavy price. In the case of drug addiction, individuals must be acutely aware of the negative consequences of drug use, both short-term and long-term. Recognising and acknowledging these consequences can serve as a powerful deterrent.

Icarus is not just a grim tale; it’s also a powerful testament to the human capacity for transformation and redemption. Just as Icarus’ fate was avoidable, so too is addiction.

However, recovery entails acknowledging the consequences of addiction and taking the necessary steps to change. It demands an unwavering commitment to personal growth and healing. The story of Icarus teaches us that, just as he could have chosen a safer path by following his father’s advice, those grappling with addiction can opt for a different path.

UKAT stands as a support system for individuals seeking to escape addiction. Just as Daedalus provided the means of flight for Icarus, UKAT provides the tools, therapies, and resources needed for recovery. UKAT also specialises in supporting individuals through the withdrawal process, ensuring their safety and comfort as they navigate the arduous early stages of recovery. Contact us today if you want more information on how UKAT can help you.

(Click here to see works cited)

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  • Khantzian, Edward J. “The Self-Medication Hypothesis of Substance Use Disorders: A Reconsideration and Recent Applications.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry 4, no. 5 (1997): 231-244. Accessed 22 Oct 2023, Jstor
  • Marlatt, G. Alan, and Donovan, Dennis M. Relapse Prevention: Maintenance Strategies in the Treatment of Addictive Behaviors. Guilford Press, 2005. Accessed 22 Oct 2023, Jstor