David Bowie’s addiction struggles were public knowledge. Learn what factors exacerbated them and how he successfully recovered to continue his musical genius.
When David Bowie succumbed to liver cancer in January of this year he was remembered for his music genius and his rock star lifestyle, which typically included addictions. David Bowie’s addictions were to alcohol and cocaine.
Being a musician is an incredibly stressful job, especially when it comes to writing your own music — if you are not in the right state of mind you cannot produce good songs. Musicians, and most other creative professions, create routines or find places that allow them to think creatively and produce the best work possible. Most also rely on substances that stimulate them, the most common and harmless one being coffee. However, increasingly we see famous musicians turning to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with the demands of their profession. Amy Winehouse is the most prominent example with years of addiction to various drugs, including heroin, which ultimately lead to her death. Many others who actually seek help in getting over addictions to dangerous substances, find that there is a co-occurring disorder that is fuelling their addictions, and after dealing with the underlying issues go on to make a full clean recovery.
David Bowie is a shining example — he famously suffered addictions to both cocaine and alcohol before eventually deciding to get clean. Bowie then sought help in rehab clinics, addressed underlying mental health issues that were triggering the addictions and continued to have a successful career post addiction.
“Drugs had taken my life away from me. I felt as though I would probably die and it was going to be all over.” — David Bowie
David Bowie shot to fame in the late 1960’s and 70’s with him creating alter egos — Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke — as ways to express himself amid rising fame. While onstage his performances were electric, off stage he was becoming increasingly manic and at some point was said to live on ‘a diet of cocaine, gitanes, peppers and milk‘. While he confessed to primarily using cocaine to keep him awake and creative, there were many issues in Bowie’s past that he was avoiding. Most notable was the history of mental illness and depression in his family. With his brother, Terry, being admitted to a psychiatric facility, Bowie felt his artistic outlet could provide him with a way to avoid dealing with these mental health issues. He famously said “as long as I could put those psychological excesses into my music and into my work, I could always be throwing it off”. However, by time he was in his late 20’s he seemed to become worried about his own alcohol and cocaine consumption, as he had suffered a few accidental overdoses. Then, when Bowie was 28 and after an attempted suicide, he decided to get clean once and for all.
“I’m an alcoholic, so it would be the kiss of death for me to start drinking again. My relationships with my friends and family has been so good for so many years now, I would not do anything to destroy that again.” — David Bowie
Bowie’s struggle through addiction became public knowledge. He was very open about his recovery and was often cited expressing regret about using drugs. David Bowie’s struggle with cocaine and alcohol is a clear example of a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder, whereby the patient is addicted to more than one substance, or a substance addiction along with a psychological disorder. Co-occurring disorders are often more difficult to treat and traditional rehab techniques are often not enough as they do not address the underlying psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety.
In the case of David Bowie, he left New York to seek help in Switzerland and spent time addressing his fears in an inpatient rehabilitation centre. Later he moved to Berlin to start making music again post recovery, and continued to release a string of successful albums without the use of drugs or alcohol — showing the world that his talents were not merely fuelled by substances. Of course, recovery did not come easily but with expert help, a change of scenery and dealing with the mental health issues alongside the addictions, recovery sparked a new era for Bowie.
“The ’80s were very strange for me. I lost all interest in what I was doing. I was doing exceptionally well commercially but I did not understand why I was enjoying none of it.” — David Bowie
After overcoming his addictions, Bowie came to terms with the depression that he had been hiding from for many years. He continued to make music, underwent counselling sessions and went on to make a full recovery until his death, even gaining custody of his son.
David Bowie’s public battle with co-occurring disorders has become worldwide news. With his death at 69, his previous struggles show that through admitting a problem with substances, people with addictions can go on to make full recoveries and live healthy, successful lives. One essential key to Bowie’s recovery from a co-occurring disorder was admitting himself to an inpatient rehab clinic and addressing the underlying mental issues beyond the addictions.
At The Cabin Chiang Mai we are specialists at treating clients with co-occurring disorders, please feel free to contact us if you wish to have a clinical assessment