Howl describes the lives of drug addicts and alcoholics, and though these folks might be "angelic" for other reasons, the consequences of their drug use are not pretty. Most of the imagery of drug use occurs in the first section, before Howl shifts toward a discussion of Moloch and mental illness. As William Carlos Williams wrote in the original introduction to Howl: "Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell."
- Line 2: To have a "fix" is to take enough of a drug to tide a person over until the next craving. A person looking for a "fix" necessarily suffers from addiction. Many of us need our "fix" of caffeine in the morning, for example. The fix is personified as angry, when in fact the addicts are angry because they had to wander the streets in order to find drugs.
- Line 9: They get arrested for trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico with marijuana strapped to their waist. In a metaphor, their beards are described as pubic hair.
- Line 10: The speaker turns the religious concept of purgatory into a verb that describes the effect of drugs (among other things) on the body.
- Line 13: This line contains various images of drug use, including a complicated metaphor comparing the clarity or "light" of the mind to a "king." Peyote is a hallucinogenic drug originally used in Native American rituals.
- Line 14: The subway ride from the Battery to the Bronx might have felt "endless" to a person high on benzedrine, but for us sober readers, we know this is an exaggeration, or hyperbole.
- Line 21: They wait out the agony of "junk-withdrawal," when the body struggles to cope without drugs for an extended period of time.
- Line 31: In this metaphor, the effects of Capitalism are likened to a drug that produces a "narcotic tobacco haze."