Exclusive: Walker Hayes Admits Alcoholism Is Something He Fights 'All the Time'

Walker Hayes is an alcoholic. But he's an alcoholic who is holding on to sobriety – sometimes easily, sometimes with a white-knuckled grip – because he knows the dangers of picking up one more beer.

"I'm only two years sober. I still fight it all the time," Hayes tells PopCulture.com. "If you take a look around, there's a lot of people leaning on alcohol these days, or substances in general. Life sucks and it's heavy. Alcohol is an immediate courage giver. It's an immediate relief, band-aid. Sometimes we all seek those things to help us along."

Hayes didn't always have a problem with drinking. It wasn't until his first record deal failed, and he found himself struggling to support his family that alcohol became a way for him to numb the pain, and dull the constant ache resting inside of him.

"I leaned on it heavily, with the pressures of not being able to provide," shares Hayes. "Nashville kind of chewed me up, spit me out. I was embarrassed. The shame was painful, and then I would drink. Then the shame of being a drunk made me drink even more. It was kind of a cyclical thing, because growing up, looking at some of my brothers, I always said I'd never be like them, and then I kind of looked at myself at some point and said, 'Wow, I'm just like them, if not worse.' Shame on me for judging them ever. I was such a stupid kid."

In an industry where songs are about parties and drinking, Hayes joins a short list of artists, including Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Brantley Gilbert, who choose not to imbibe. And, he acknowledges it can feel isolating to stand alone in a crowd.

"That's a subject matter that I'm tearing up in my next album," reveals the 38-year-old. "I just finished a song called 'Wish I Could Drink,' and it's about that just kind of hotel loneliness, and then the dreams that you have if you're a recovering alcoholic. Kind of forgiving yourself for the past, and moving on and focusing on now. Trying not to be selfish. It's just a healing process. It is a tough business."

Hayes is currently on the road, serving as the opening act on Kelsea Ballerini's Unapologetically Tour, where his band members understand that the struggle for Hayes continues.

"I cannot be around a lot of drunk people," Hayes admits. "That's tough for anybody. Even if you drink and you just take a night off, it's not fun. You realize that everybody's kind of just a little loopy, and they're repeating themselves, and slurring their words. I try to keep it off my bus for the most part. My band is not – I don't expect them to all be recovering alcoholics, but we run a tight ship when it comes to that type of stuff. I don't like to be around it much. It's a big part of my life, sobriety, right now."

Hayes touched on his alcoholism with "Beer in the Fridge," from his recent boom. album. The song, which says, "There's a beer in the fridge, last of twelve / Sole survivor of my last all-nighter / In the back of the bottom shelf / It's gonna be there in the morning," is part of a record that came after Hayes stopped drinking – a timing he finds ironic.

"It's a lot for me to have quit drinking, and then to be flooded with all these new emotions and problems and stresses," Hayes concedes. "I'm exhilarated by bigger crowds, therefore when those crowds go away, it's quieter in my green room. I want that to come back ... Like Jim Carrey said, 'I wish people could get all rich and famous, and learn that it's not the answer.' That's what I'm learning. I'm learning when I can't lean on alcohol, I do so many things. I spend a lot of time in the gym.

"It's not because I'm a big fitness geek, or I know a lot about it, or I want to just get jacked," he adds. "It's just I enjoy that, it's something to distract, it's a healthy distraction."

Being sober touches every area of his life, including his time on stage.

"It took me a while to get used to just playing in front of people sober. That was scary. I remember playing Gray's on Main [in Franklin, Tenn.] – that was my first show without a drink. It felt like the space between songs was hours. Even now, my team makes fun of me, because I'll always have a coffee, a tea, chewing on ice, gum, water. I've replaced it with healthier addictions, but it's constantly a fight. I talk to people who are 20 years sober, and they encourage me. They tell me that it gets better over time."

Hayes credits his faith, his strong will and his desire to be a better person with helping him embrace sobriety, but above all, he says it's his wife, Laney, and his close friends, who became the inspiration he needed to quit, once and for all.

"There was a time at my lowest, where I threw faith and myself, for sure, away," Hayes says. "It was almost like her and some people that love me, were like, 'Hey, you dropped this,' and I was like, 'No, I don't want it,' but they waited on me. They waited patiently for me to pick it back up."

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Download "Beer in the Fridge" on iTunes.

Photo Credit: Facebook/Walker Hayes