“I probably went through five or six drafts of that letter over three days, even though it’s only a few paragraphs; it’s tough, deciding how much you want to let people in,” Panic! at the Disco drummer Spencer Smith says. “I ended up leaving in more than I guess I thought I would, and in a lot of ways, it was freeing … if you try to pull the wool over people’s eyes, even if it works, it doesn’t feel good inside.”
He’s talking, for the first time, about the letter he wrote to fans earlier this week, in which he revealed that, for years, he’d abused alcohol and prescription medications and recently sought treatment for his addictions. And though he revealed much in that letter, it turns out he’s still got plenty to say.
Next week, we’ll be bringing you more of our interview — where Smith discusses how his addictions nearly got him kicked out of Panic!, and how he plans on remaining sober as the band returns to the road — but today, we’ll start at the very beginning: the incident that drove his use of prescription pills into overdrive and started him on his downward spiral.
“I didn’t mention it in the letter, but two-and-a-half years ago, my dad was diagnosed with ALS. I was actually introduced to painkillers and Xanax a little bit before that, and then it just increased when that happened and I became aware of what he was dealing with,” Smith says. “Initially I was taking them just like any other drug; just ‘Oh, cool, I’ll see what this is like.’ And then it wasn’t too long after where, I was taking one Vicodin a day, and we couldn’t get any more, and my friend [asked] ‘Are you feeling withdrawal symptoms?’
“And that was scary, because that’s when I first recognized ‘Wow, I have to take this, unless I have three-or-four days to check out and lay in bed,’” he continues. “But rather than do the smart thing, and deal with it right then, I progressed, and took more and more.”
Smith admits that he was mixing alcohol and medication during the making of Panic!’s Vices & Virtues album — “I remember showing up for work and … I would look at myself in the mirror and being like ‘There’s no way they don’t know,” he sighs — but was able to maintain an equilibrium so long as he remained busy. It was the free time that he couldn’t seem to manage, which led to the moments where he hit rock bottom and realized he needed help.
“About a year before I went to treatment, I had mixed a whole bunch of different things together, and I just remember I had to call an ambulance for myself because I was shaking and was really nervous,” he says. “I was trying to go to sleep, and I would just wake up and the TV was on, and it was almost like I was watching it in fast-forward. I didn’t know what was going on. But I felt fine 24 hours later, so I thought ‘OK, I just won’t do that again.’
“And then it was a little less than a year later that the same kind of thing happened,” he continued. “I woke up after drinking a lot, and I was starting to feel serious withdrawals from the alcohol and the prescription stuff, I was shaking and my heart was beating, my blood pressure was really high, and I went to the hospital again and that’s when they talked to me about really getting help.”
And, after attempting to quit on his own, eventually Smith checked himself in to a treatment facility, where, for the next 30 days, he got clean … not to mention introspective, about where his life was headed and what his addictions could ultimately cost him.
“I realized I can’t ever try to kid myself that I’m not an alcoholic, that I’m not a drug addict, that I can just have a little bit,” he said. “Also that it felt really good to be honest with the people in there. It’s weird how close you can become with these people … three days in you’re telling them things that I haven’t told my best friends. I learned about this tight-knit community of people. Especially in LA, there’s a lot of people that you would never know; extremely successful people that were in a place like I was, and it could have gone either way.”
So now, with nearly nine months of sobriety under his belt, Smith has come clean to the world about his struggles, and the response he’s gotten from Panic!’s fans has been beyond anything he ever could have imagined.
“To be honest, that’s what I was most nervous about; writing the letter, what would people think?” he says. “But, people have been so amazing, so kind, telling me how much it means to them that I’m speaking about all this. It’s so much better than I ever thought it could have been.”