Music Festivals and Raves: Drug Use, Health Risks, and Trying to Have a Good Time In Spite of It All

Night festival

Music festivals, raves, EDM (electronic dance music) concerts, and live concerts are growing in popularity. According to Billboard, thirty-two million people go to music festivals in the U.S. at least once a year. Fifty-one percent of Americans attended some kind of live music event in 2015, compared to only forty-four percent in 2014.

Unfortunately, such festivals and raves include significant levels of drug use and drinking and this can make enjoyment of these events impossible, especially if one does not want to be exposed to drugs or alcohol misuse. Often, the best solution is to avoid going at all, especially if the “scene” is known for drug use. There is no music worth a relapse, and as they say: “Why go to the bar if you aren’t going to drink?”

How to Enjoy Music Festivals Sober

Having fun on the festival.

The idea that something has to be done while under the influence of drugs and alcohol for it to be “fun” is illogical. Your own senses and your own perceptions are the best you will ever have. Drug-induced stupors or euphorias alter and distort things and give you a false representation of the world. It’s not worth it. You will also be more able to remember the experience if you experience it drug-free.

There are reasons and ways to enjoy a dance festival or rave without turning to mind-altering substances. We’ve included a brief guide below, showing how people can have a blast at such events without succumbing to the drug culture.

Go with people who also intend to stay sober. Going with others who continue to use drugs or alcohol is a sure way to risk a relapse.

Practice the dance! One of the big elements of a dance festival or rave is the dance aspect of it. We’re there to enjoy the music, after all, and don’t music and dance go hand-in-hand? If you want to avoid the drug side of the rave or music festival, embrace instead the dance side of it. Work on your dance moves at or between festivals, and try to link up with other individuals there who are also more interested in dancing to the music rather than doing drugs. This makes you an active participant rather than a drugged-out passive observer.

Enjoy people watching. It’s not every day that you get to see hundreds of thousands of people gathered together for a music festival or rave. When you’re in such a place, you’ll have the opportunity to see many, many people dressed in intricate costumes and eclectic gear. It’s quite a sight to behold. Even something as relaxed as a folk festival or an Indie music festival is still going to have a melting pot of all different kinds of people and styles. Keep your eyes wide open and free of substances to enjoy all the sights and sounds offered to you.

Chocolate biscuite.

Try the food. Not necessarily the first thing we think of when we think of a music festival or a rave, right? But think about it. These events are often several days long, sometimes held out in the middle of nowhere. There’s going to be lots to eat, and it’s often quite good. No matter what type of festival or event you go to, there’s sure to be a mixed assortment of food trucks and other delicatessens, so if you’re feeling any kind of crave coming on, satisfy it with something sweet, savory, or salty instead. Be sure you ask if it is laced or tweaked with any type of drug. Some vendors think they are adding a perk if they add some mind-altering substance to their food. Make sure it’s clean before ingesting food from any strangers.

Learn five new things every day. Raves and music festivals are usually huge events, sprawled across several acres of land. Rather than focusing on the music alone, get out and about, check out the woods, the walking paths, talk to people, the vendors, etc. In fact, some festivals even have special, mini-events like lectures, nonprofit groups promoting their mission or activity. Some festivals have activities you can take part in, competitions to participate in, etc. All of this is done better with a clear mind and body--not a drug-clouded one.

Link up with an organization within the festival that supports the sober enjoyment of festivals and raves. One such group, called DanceSafe, is dedicated to spreading the word of how enjoyable raves and festivals can be without drugs and alcohol. They talk about the risks of using substances and then dancing outside all day in the hot sun. They discuss things like dehydration, overdoses, heatstroke, accidents and injuries, bad decisions made while under the influence, etc. Linking up with groups like this not only supports the sober aspect of festivals, but it reminds you why you wanted to enjoy the music festival sober in the first place.

If You’re in Recovery, Always Play the Safe Card

Man playing acoustic guitar at the sober party.

Here’s a final note for people in recovery. At the end of the day, the important thing to remember is that no one in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction should go anywhere or put themselves in any kind of condition or location where they face a high likelihood of being confronted with substances. No rave, music show, festival, or any other type of event is worth the risk of a relapse. Always have your phone with you and the number of a sober friend who can help walk you safely through a potential crisis.

If you are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, it might be best to stay away from these types of events. The rule of thumb is this: “When in doubt, don’t go.” You have to remember that even if it might have turned out to be the best show of your life, your recovery is the most important thing to you.

And if you are not a recovering addict, but you want to stay sober throughout the entire music festival, then you still need to be cautious, have a plan and consider the groups you are supporting. If the artist is targeting the drug crowd, then why support them?


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MACP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.