40 Years Before Cancer, Bowie Battled Addiction
Like much of the world, I woke up today to a stunning fact – David Bowie, aka the Thin White Duke, aka Ziggy Stardust, had died after a secret 18-month battle with cancer. I’m not here to detail Bowie’s staggering contributions to music, culture, and gender stereotypes. Clearly, his legacy precedes him, and needs no introduction. Still a relatively young man, Bowie, at 69, lost his life yesterday. But according to those close to him, he lived far longer than anyone would have expected back in the mid-1970s. Back then, he suffered from a massive cocaine addiction. Indeed, it was so intense, he experienced a phenomenon known as cocaine psychosis.
What is Cocaine Psychosis?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine psychosis can be described as “binge-pattered cocaine use which may lead to irritability, restlessness, and anxiety…severe paranoia…. touch with reality and…auditory hallucinations.”
Bowie certainly did meet the profile. Cocaine psychosis patients are more likely to be men, with the psychosis dependent on severity and duration of use. Also, a lower body mass index tends to contribute to the effect. In 1975, it is said that the 5’10” Bowie may have weighed under 100 pounds.
Interviews published during the time described Bowie as being obsessed with witchcraft, burning candles and collecting Egyptian artifacts. Could it merely be the musings of an eccentric rock star, or symptoms of something far more sinister? Signs point to the latter.
In addition, Bowie reported seeing bodies falling outside his window, and was suspicious of other musicians being vampires or government agents. He feared Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, believing he was practicing witchcraft. All these oddities point to a break in reality, delusional constructs, hallucinations, and full-blown cocaine psychosis. He believed in the paranormal, and that it could be malevolent. It certainly seemed to be tormenting Bowie, at least.
His psychosis descended into obsession, as he began to excessively draw pentagrams on multiple surfaces. Bowie himself admitted that he would “stay up for weeks” and that there were “pieces of me all over the floor”. In addition to addiction, Bowie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or back then, called manic depression). The cocaine use appeared to make this disorder much, much worse, which is often the case when drugs meet mental illness.
Three years ago, in an interview Bowie stated that he was warned against drugs, as early as age 18. He said that that advice was correct, and that he laments that drugs took over his life. At age 28, he suffered from suicidal ideations:
I really did think that my thoughts about not making 30 would come true. Drugs had taken my life away from me. I felt as though I would probably die and it was going to be all over.
Unlike many, Bowie finally managed to kick his cocaine habit. He credited help from an assistant, leaving the U.S., and relocating to Berlin. He also noted that he hadn’t used cocaine since the 1970’s, after being given custody of his son Duncan, who is now 44.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels Clark, M.A., Psychology
Dedicated to David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016),