DISCLAIMER: Although the death of Anthony Bourdain has been ruled a suicide, there are no reports at this time that drugs or alcohol were involved. However, Bourdain had a well-documented personal history of addiction and spoke often about his recovery. We therefore provide this information about his life to educate others who are struggling about substance abuse or mental health issues.
From the outside, it’s a mystery—Why would a world-famous figure like Anthony Bourdain take his own life? After all, by any measure, he seemed to be wildly successful, with fame, fortune, and professional achievement far beyond the dreams of most.
Beginning in 2002, Bourdain was a fixture on television, hosting such shows as A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, The Layover, and, since 2013, CNN’s Parts Unknown. It is this last show which gave audiences the greatest insight into Bourdain’s adventuresome spirit, because it featured him traveling the world and fearlessly sampling local cuisines.
In a luminous career as a chef, author, and television personality, Anthony Bourdain was widely recognized for his accomplishments. In 2001, he was named Food Writer of the Year, and in 2002, he wrote the Food Book of the Year. He won both Emmy awards and the Peabody award, and as recently as 2017, he was granted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the Culinary Institute of America.
And although he is most well-known for his work in the culinary field, Bourdain’s larger-than-life personality made him much more than just another celebrity chef. He was a born storyteller who used food and the culture surrounding how we prepare and eat it to highlight the connections we all share.
In fact, as TV critic Daniel Fienberg put it, “More than anything, the late Anthony Bourdain wanted us to not feel isolated — to not feel alone in the world.”
It is an especially ironic tragedy, then, that a man like that felt so alone that he saw suicide as the only option for whatever was troubling him. And while we may never know what led Bourdain to commit such a drastic act, we can take a closer look at the private man behind the public persona.
By putting Bourdain’s personal struggles into a larger context, perhaps we can give meaning to this tragedy by helping others who are also suffering.
Bourdain Had an Extensive Personal History of Drug Use
“We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in refrigerator at every opportunity to ‘conceptualize.’ Hardly a decision was made without drugs.”
~Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
The kitchens that Bourdain worked in in the early 1980s were “drenched in drugs and alcohol and accompanied by constantly loud rock-and-roll music”. By his own admission, Bourdain and his coworkers used:
- Psilocybin Mushrooms
Part of the reason for Bourdain’s indulgence was the drug culture of the 1980s and part of it was because of the unique high-pressure, no-holds-barred microcosm of the restaurant industry. This second factor is still a major problem today. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the food services industry has the highest rate of illicit drug use of any occupation. Nearly 1 in 5 workers admits to using drugs within the past month.
In 2013, Bourdain described his 20s, saying that he was “druggy”, and that “I would have robbed your medicine cabinet had I been invited to your house.” In fact, Bourdain has also been quoted saying that he should have died in his 20s.
That statement has more truth to it than he knew. Polydrug abuse – the mixing of multiple substances – is extremely dangerous. In fact, 75% of all drug overdoses involve more than one substance. Bourdain’s own experiences bear that out, as he once passed out on the street after mixing alcohol, anti-inflammatory drugs, and painkillers.
Even more alarming, polydrug abuse accounts for 98% of overdose deaths. This is especially true when central nervous system depressants are combined – alcohol, Quaaludes, barbiturates (Seconal, Tuinal, etc.), and opioids (codeine, heroin, prescription painkillers, etc.).
Although he used many drugs recreationally, he developed severe addictions to first heroin, and then crack cocaine.
Hooked: Why Is Heroin So Addictive?
“I got off of heroin in the 1980s. Friends of mine from the ‘70s and ‘80s, they just got off five, six, maybe 10 years ago. And we’re the lucky ones. We made it out alive. There are a lot of guys that didn’t get that far…”
~ Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain bought his first bag of heroin in 1980, when he was only 24 years old. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was entering into a dangerous relationship with one of the most addictive drugs on the planet. In fact, approximately 1 out of 4 people who even tries heroin will develop an addiction.
For his part, Bourdain plainly said later, “I just like heroin, it feels really good.”
Although that is an oversimplification, it is perfectly accurate.
Whenever someone performs an activity necessary to survival, such as eating or sex, the brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, learning, and motivation. The action is performed, the person is “rewarded” with pleasurable sensations, they learn to associate the action with the reward, and thus are motivated to repeat the behavior.
Heroin use also induces a response, but the dopamine surge is much faster, stronger, and longer-lasting. But over time and with chronic use, the dopamine receptors become exhausted from the constant artificial over-stimulation. This impairs the reward response – not just to heroin but to ALL pleasurable behaviors.
This limited response—also known as drug tolerance—is why addicts need to constantly increase their dosage in order to achieve the same high. But higher doses of heroin also increase the likelihood of overdose. In fact, 70% of heroin users will overdose at least once.
In a 2017 profile in The New Yorker quoted Bourdain from his first memoir, Kitchen Confidential, where he wrote, “Only one in four has a chance at making it…. And right there, I knew that if one of us was getting off dope, and staying off dope, it was going to be me. I was going to live. I was the guy.”
Dope Sick – The Horrors of Heroin Withdrawal
“When I started getting symptoms of withdrawal, I was proud of myself.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
When he decided to quit his seven-year heroin addiction, Bourdain adopted a unique mindset—he used withdrawal as motivation. Whenever symptoms started to appear, he felt pride. As a former addict who copped every day, the dope sickness he felt meant he was slowly breaking free from his compulsion.
During heroin detox, the worst of the physical symptoms will begin between 12 and 30 hours of the last time the drug was used, and they will last approximately 5 days. In cases of severe heroin addiction, however, these symptoms may persist up to two weeks.
It is not particularly dangerous to stop using heroin, but the withdrawal symptoms can be among the worst. For this reason, up to 80% of heroin addicts will relapse within their first year of sobriety.
- Terrible anxiety
- Extreme restlessness and agitation
- Deep depression
- Hot flashes and chills
- Sexual dysfunction/Impotence
- Confusion/Inability to concentrate
- Loss of motivation
- Profound fatigue
- Uncontrollable yawning
- Restless leg tremors
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Profuse sweating
- Runny nose
- Increased tear production
- Severe nausea
- Harsh vomiting
- Painful abdominal cramps
- Copious diarrhea
- A sensation that the ski is crawling
- Goosebumps – the origin of the term “cold turkey”
The most commonly-experienced complaint is of a general feeling of being unwell with a severe case of the flu. This is why people addicted to heroin will describe withdrawal as being “sick”.
How unpleasant was heroin withdrawal for Anthony Bourdain?
Whatever feelings of pride he said he felt when he experienced withdrawal, Bourdain still went to a methadone clinic for five years before finally quitting cold turkey.
A Few Words about Methadone
Methadone has been approved as an opioid addiction treatment since 1947. As a prescribed first-line treatment during Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT), methadone gives thousands of heroin addicts the ability to slowly wean from their drug while avoiding the worst withdrawal symptoms. It is referred to as a “harm reduction” strategy:
- Up to 65% of heroin addicts in ORT are able to eventually stop using.
- Between 70% and 95% significantly reduce their heroin consumption.
- Limits the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis.
- Patients receive measured dosages of guaranteed quality and purity.
- Patients are encouraged to enter a drug treatment program and are connected to such resources when ready.
- Having to check in daily at a clinic gives addicts a sense of structure, which can help keep them clean.
- Reduces crime.
- Allows them to keep a job, live at home, and maintain personal relationships.
But there are serious concerns about methadone, as well.
- Methadone has a high potential for abuse, dependency, addiction, and overdose.
- Methadone therapy can go on for months or even years.
- Many patients continue to use heroin and other opioids.
- Some methadone clinics have such strict rules that patients feel they have no control or input about their treatment.
- Methadone shows up on drug screens, making it hard for patients to find or keep a job.
- Daily trips to the clinic may pose a problem for those patients who have a job or who don’t have a car. It also makes vacations or overnight travel impossible.
- Methadone interacts dangerously with other medications—especially other opioid painkillers or benzodiazepine tranquilizers such as Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium.
- Mixing alcohol with methadone can be fatal.
- Thousands of people die every year because of methadone poisoning.
Although methadone was the only option available to Bourdain, there are now other medications that are just as effective and far safer, such as Suboxone and Vivitrol.
Crack Cocaine – the Biggest Drug Threat of the 1980s
“I just bottomed out on crack.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
While cocaine powder is snorted through the nose, crack is cocaine that has been processed into small crystals or “rocks”. Users then smoke the drug by heating the crystals and inhaling the smoke. When heated, the drug makes a crackling sound – hence, the name.
Inhaling crack vapors means the drug reaches and affects the user’s brain almost instantly. The powerful rush is more immediate and intense than realized by any other form of cocaine consumption. This is why crack can be extremely habit-forming, even after the very first use.
It certainly had such an effect on Anthony Bourdain. He has spoken at length about the depth of his crack addiction. He said that when he ran out, he would pick paint chips out of the carpet in the hope that they were bits of crack – and then he would smoke them anyway.
The high is also incredibly temporary, usually lasting no more than 15 minutes. This brevity is why crack addicts will binge-use, smoking more every 20 minutes or so, in order to maintain their high.
Here’s the thing – although crack is thought of as a trendy drug of the past, today, it is still one of the top reasons for admission to drug treatment.
The Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal
The symptoms of cocaine withdrawal begin to manifest within 24 hours following the last dose. These symptoms appear in several phases:
- Strong Drug Cravings
- Extreme Fatigue
- Extreme Irritability
- Apathy and Dissatisfaction with Life
- Worsened Depression
- Increased Appetite
- Decreased Cravings
- Lingering Anger
- Persistent Bad Dreams
- Rebound Cravings
- Poor Sleep Quality
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS):
Long-term cocaine abusers may see a recurrence of some symptoms somewhere between three and six months:
- Unexplained anxiety
- Nervousness and agitation
- Strong cravings for cocaine
- Deep depression
- Wild mood swings
Because cocaine triggers profound changes within the brain, PAWS can persist for up to two years, and symptoms will often appear with little to no warning.
Unfortunately, there are no medications specifically-approved by the FDA for cocaine withdrawal. This means that professional support, including behavioral counseling, becomes even more important if recovery is to be successful.
Why Is Addiction So Common in the Restaurant Industry?
“It’s part of the culture. It’s a combination of the hours (in restaurant work) and the accessibility. Amphetamines are almost a tool that some need, and then it gets out of control. There’s also the camaraderie. You and your crew might unwind by having a celebratory shot or cracking a beer. Beer, wine and liquor are around all the time.”
~ Sacramento chef John Puckett
SAMHSA reports that heavy alcohol use is very common among service workers – approximately 12% of workers in the industry drink to excess. This ranks #3, behind miners and construction workers.
Again, the food service industry ranks #1 for past-month illicit drug use. It’s not surprising, then, to learn that restaurant workers are at the greatest risk for a diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder. Almost 17% have met the criteria for a SUD within the past year.
Besides Bourdain, other celebrity chefs have struggled with substance use—Nigella Lawson, Darren Simpson, Cat Cora, and Michael Chiarello have all dealt with alcohol and drug issues.
Why is substance abuse so rampant in the industry?
There is a combination of factors:
- The long hours
- Exhausting, often repetitive work
- Stress and pressure
- Low wages, especially for unskilled positions
- Easy availability
- An insular culture where alcohol and drug use are accepted
- Camaraderie among workers
- Most restaurants do not drug-test their employees
How Did Anthony Bourdain Overcome His Addictions?
“I had other things I still wanted to do. And I saw that I wasn’t going to be doing shit when I was spending all my time and all my money on coke or dope—except more coke and dope.”
~ Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw
When he stopped using heroin and crack cocaine, it doesn’t seem as if Anthony Bourdain went the “traditional” route of professional rehab services or 12 Step Recovery program such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous.
In fact, in later conversations, it appears as if Bourdain didn’t agree with the current consensus that SUD is a medically-diagnosable disease of the brain. That may be partly because such a diagnosis did not exist when he was actively addicted.
However, since that time, medical and addiction science has advanced to the point where we now know more about the causes and consequences of substance abuse than ever before. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) now lists specific symptoms of various addictive disorders.
Failure to recognize addiction as a legitimate illness that can be treated with evidence-based measures such as behavioral counseling and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can actually be a hindrance to recovery for most people.
When someone believes that their addiction is due to “bad choices” and nothing more, they fall into the trap of thinking that they can somehow beat their disease with willpower alone. Usually, that approach ends in disaster.
Also, this manner of thinking stigmatizes people who struggle with addictive disorders and traps them in a self-destructive cycle of guilt and shame.
In 2014, Bourdain reflected on his past drug use and what prompted him to take his first steps in recovery. On a special episode of Parts Unknown, he said, “There was some dark genie inside me that I very much hesitate to call a disease, that led me to dope. I looked in the mirror at that time and I saw someone worth saving, or that I wanted to at least try real hard to save.”
Emotional Sobriety—Why Detox Isn’t Enough
“By my late thirties, I found that I was still lingering, and I admit to a sense of disappointment, confusion—even defeat. “What do I do now?” I remember thinking. Detoxed from heroin and methadone, and having finally—finally—ended a lifelong love affair with cocaine. Where was my reward for all this self-denial? Shouldn’t I have been feeling good?”
~ Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw
Bourdain wasn’t alone in feeling this way.
Many people new to recovery are under the mistaken impression that their lives will now be “perfect” because they have stopped drinking and/or using drugs. But truth be told, this is almost NEVER the case, because until they are resolved, the same problems that existed before are still there.
To be clear — real recovery is MUCH MORE than simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
Physical sobriety IS the most-important first requirement. No one can move forward in recovery while they are still held back by addictive substances. But all addictive disorders are caused by – and cause—several other problems, and the only way to truly get better is to address these issues. Consider the following quote:
“Alcoholism is a strange condition. If you survive the drinking stage, and many don’t, it has relatively little to do with alcohol, which is merely the drug with which the alcoholic treats herself. It is, rather, a way of thinking, and continues long after you have stopped drinking. It is a voice in the head: a malevolent voice that wants you to die.”
~ Tanya Gold, in an article for The Guardian
Although it specifically references alcoholism, this quote fits ANY SUD. More than just abstinence, successful recovery also means changing thoughts, behaviors, reactions, and even feelings about life’s situations.
Recovery requires taking a fearless look at one’s self and honestly admitting that the old way of doing things just hasn’t worked. People drink and get high in an attempt to deal with real-life problems like stress, trauma, relationship woes, and painful memories, but when they come down or sober up, their problems were still there.
In most cases, substance abuse had both made those existing problems worse or created a whole slew of new ones.
This is why the best rehab programs spend so much time teaching new skills and instilling new habits:
- Reducing stress
- Positive coping skills
- Avoiding triggers
- Trauma processing
- Better communication
- Counseling for couples and families
Not-Quite Abstinent – Bourdain’s Continued Alcohol and Drug Use
“Most people who kick heroin and cocaine have to give up on everything. Maybe cause my experiences were so awful in the end, I’ve never been tempted to relapse…You see me drink myself stupid on my show all the time. And I have a lot of fun doing that…When I indulge, I indulge.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
Unlike most people who quit using drugs, Bourdain continued to drink alcohol, and it is strongly implied that he also used marijuana. Interestingly, he DID give up cigarettes.
While it doesn’t appear that Bourdain relapsed and went back to using “hard” drugs, his suicide plainly shows that his method wasn’t entirely successful at improving his mental health, either. But a larger takeaway is the fact his decision to pick and choose which intoxicants to use won’t work for most people.
First, all intoxicants interfere with the brain’s reward system, and this disruption is the basis for the gateway drug concept. Simply put, when a person becomes dependent on the artificial over-stimulation of the reward pathways caused by substance use, they are compelled to seek out more stimulation, regardless of the source. For example, teenagers who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use marijuana are 17 times more likely to use harder drugs.
Specifically in the case of marijuana, which many people view as “harmless”, past research conducted by Dutch and American scientists at the Vrije University in Amsterdam and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that smoking pot may trigger relapses in drug addicts.
The brain’s cannabinoid receptors are closely linked to dopamine production and release, thereby playing a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Researchers determined that blocking those cannabinoid receptors may help people who are trying to give up heroin, cocaine, alcohol, or smoking.
During the study, cocaine-addicted lab rats were deprived of the drug for two weeks. Then, they were re-exposed to behavioral and environmental cues that in the past would trigger drug use.
After the abstinence period, however, the rats were also injected with a synthetic drug that blocked their brain’s cannabinoid receptors. Lead scientist Dr. Taco de Vries said, “We found that in the rats exposed to environmental cues associated with cocaine injection in the past, or to cocaine itself, the likelihood of relapse was reduced by 50% to 60%.”
Finally, the use of alcohol or marijuana during recovery from other drugs is a bad idea because people tend to make poor choices when they are impaired by any mind-altering substance. And when inhibitions are lowered, and judgment is clouded, even the best of intentions don’t matter.
Narcissism as A Factor in Substance Abuse
“I tell stories for a living. I write books. I make television. A reasonable person does not believe that you are so interesting that people will watch you on television. I think this is evidence of a narcissistic personality disorder to start with.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by:
- An overwhelming need for admiration
- Lack of empathy for others
- A sense of entitlement
- Willingness to exploit or belittle others
- Low self-esteem
- A higher risk of substance abuse – Up to 64% of people with this disorder also abuse alcohol and/or drugs.
How does any of this apply to Anthony Bourdain?
- He could be arrogant – Bourdain once described the premise of his Parts Unknown show by saying, “I travel around the world, eat a lot of s***, and basically do whatever the f***I want.”
- He was well-known for insulting other chefs –Bourdain has publicly put down several other celebrity chefs – Guy Fieri, Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, and Sandra Lee have all been targets.
- He had self-esteem issues – Bourdain felt undeserving of his success, saying, “I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rear-view mirror for flashing lights.”
- He was prone to depression – Sometimes the littlest thing – a bad hamburger, for example – could sink him into a dark depression lasting for days or even weeks. Obviously, suicide is usually associated with depression.
- He abused multiple substances – Among diagnosed narcissists, cocaine is the most-frequent illicit drug of choice. Significantly, Bourdain was once actively addicted to crack cocaine.
- He could be impulsive – Christian de Rocquigny, the local prosecutor handling Bourdain’s death says that his suicide was an “impulsive act” that did not demonstrate a great deal of planning beforehand.
Dr. Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist, said, “There’s plenty of research that shows that people who have, say, narcissistic personality disorder…that they are more likely to turn to substances. If you do not trust that you can depend on people for love, for caring, connection, you’re going to have to soothe yourself some other way. You can soothe yourself with narcissism, you can soothe yourself with a drug addiction.”
Workaholism – a Different Kind of Addiction
“His travel schedule was grueling, and he often seemed quite beat-up from it, as anyone would be. He’d put everything into the shoots and then go back to his room to isolate. It never struck me as peculiar, but it was as if he gave everything to his work and then had nothing, zero, left for himself afterwards”
~ an unnamed source, speaking to People magazine
Bourdain spent up to 250 days a year on the road, traveling to various locations around the world. He gave so much of himself before the cameras that off-camera, he was described as “absolutely exhausted”. This is relevant for several reasons.
FIRST, many ex-addicts struggle to find new outlets for the time and energy that they used to put towards obtaining and using drugs. Some will completely throw themselves into their work, reasoning that at least they are obsessing in a positive manner.
But when they are unable to achieve a healthy work-life balance, any professional success comes at the cost of personal failure. In essence, all a workaholic has done is swap one addiction for another.
SECOND, workaholics tend to be socially awkward and isolated in situations that aren’t work-related. The same unnamed source said Bourdain “… was not especially cheerful or engaging, off-camera…”
THIRD, workaholics are often emotionally distant. Bourdain once said, “The kind of care and feeding required of friends, I’m frankly incapable of…I make very good friends a week at a time.”
FOURTH, workaholics are typically poor communicators. About himself, Bourdain said, “I communicate for a living, but I’m terrible with communicating with people I care about.”
FIFTH, workaholics have high rates of depression. Again, there may be no better indicator of existing depression than a completed suicide.
How Stress Contributes to Substance Abuse
“Oh, man, at the age of 44, I was standing in kitchens, not knowing what it was like to go to sleep without being in mortal terror. I was in horrible, endless, irrevocable debt. I had no health insurance. I didn’t pay my taxes. I couldn’t pay my rent. It was a nightmare…”
~ Anthony Bourdain
A 2016 study published in Neuron concluded that extreme stress alters the brain at the cellular level and causes the person to be more vulnerable to problematic substance use, especially excessive drinking.
Researchers found that the reward center of the brain contains specific neurons responsible for moderating alcohol intake. After acutely-stressful experiences, these neurons are “flipped”. Instead of curbing consumption, the brain is tricked into incentivizing continued drinking.
The prevalent theory is that these neurons’ ability to switch off and on is an evolved biological trait that helps humans overcome trauma or physical injury.
These findings highlight a possible biological reason why some individuals feel the urge to “self-medicate” with alcohol or drugs when facing extreme stress. But far too easily, that self-medication becomes abuse, dependence, and ultimately, full-blown addiction. Of special relevance, that risk is greatly magnified in people who are genetically or environmentally vulnerable.
Finally, this study clearly demonstrates the importance of practicing healthy coping methods. During early recovery, one of the most useful lessons taught is how to cope with stress in a positive manner.
Personal Isolation Despite Public Fame
“Loneliness, separation from my daughter, existential despair. I’m on the road about 250 days a year and I stay in a lot of beautiful places and look out the window at a lot of beautiful views, but I am usually alone.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
It seems almost impossible that a man so recognized and respected should ever feel something so ordinary as loneliness. But that’s exactly how Anthony Bourdain felt. Oh, he had acquaintances – even friends – all over the world, but his close personal associations were few.
He mentioned, for example, that the only person that he could bring himself to regularly communicate with was his daughter. As he also observed, however, staying in touch with a young child is a lot easier than maintaining adult friendships and relationships.
Part of this difficulty was because of his grueling schedule, but he also believed it was an ingrained personality trait. He called himself “incapable” of nurturing friendships.
This is significant because depression has been called a “disease of loneliness”. Most people with untreated depression struggle with forming the connections that prove life is worth living.
Likewise, addiction has been described as a “disease of isolation”, because impairments in attachments to others can leave a person vulnerable to substance abuse.
In hindsight, one of the most poignant things Bourdain ever said about himself was, “I feel kind of like a freak, and I feel very isolated.”
Was Anthony Bourdain Depressed?
“I ate at Johnny Rockets in an airport once and it opened up an abyss of depression and self-loathing, a spiral of self-hatred, rage, and despair that lasted weeks.”
Bourdain’s friends say they never noticed any signs of depression, but it may not have been that simple. The signs of depression aren’t always blatantly obvious. Many sufferers, especially those people who are considered “successful” fight an inner battle unbeknownst to even their closest friends and family.
In fact, there is an atypical manifestation of the condition known as “Smiling Depression”. On the outside, sufferers are happy, confident, and competent. They may have a full-time job, an active social life, and appear completely successful.
But that is merely the mask that they wear.
On the inside, they are sad, anxious, self-doubting, and far lonelier than they let on. Without ever exhibiting a sign, they may be plagued by insomnia, panic, and even suicidal thoughts.
In fact, people struggling with smiling depression may be at greater risk of self-harm than those suffering from “classic” severe depression. While severely-depressed individuals may contemplate suicide, they often lack the energy to act on those feelings. People with smiling depression, on the other hand, DO have the energy and the ability to plan and follow through with desperate acts.
Interestingly, two of the most prominent symptoms of smiling depression are drug addiction and compulsive overwork. Bourdain strongly exhibited both symptoms.
It would be surprising if Anthony Bourdain DIDN’T occasionally suffer from depression during his lifetime. 2 out of every 3 substance abusers also struggle with major depression.
Bourdain once told a therapist, “I’d like to be able to look out the window and say, ‘Yay, life is good.’”
But when the therapist asked Bourdain if ever felt that way, the instant reply was, “No.”
The Deadly Link between Substance Abuse, Depression, and Suicide
The presence of a mental disorder – such as depression – is the #1 cause of suicide. In fact, 90% of completed suicides are performed by someone suffering from a mental illness.
But it is especially significant that substance abuse – alcoholism or drug addiction – is the #2 cause. People with active SUDS are six times more likely to kill themselves than the rest of the general population. Approximately 60% of completed suicides are performed by someone who is intoxicated at the time.
Currently, there is no evidence that Anthony Bourdain was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he took his own life. De Rocquigny says, “We have no indication that he was consuming alcohol the days before his death or changed his behavior.”
But the truth may be more complicated than that.
In 2013, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that people who misuse opioids are at elevated risk for suicidal ideation. But the study, which was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, also found that the likelihood of suicidal thoughts remains high even after the cessation of drug use.
Specifically, 7% of former opioid abusers who had not used heroin or taken a painkiller without a prescription in over a year still contemplated suicide. This rate is more than double the rate of non-opioid users.
And for someone who is a current misuser of opioids whose condition is severe enough to warrant a SUD diagnosis, the risk of suicidal ideation rises to 23%.
These findings dovetail perfectly with 2016 research that found a link between long-term opioid use and depression. Up to 19% of people who take opioids for longer than three months will experience depressive symptoms.
This puts Bourdain’s history of past heroin addiction in a chilling new light.
This Wasn’t the First Time He’d Exhibited Self-Destructive Behaviors
“I was holed up in the Caribbean about midway through a really bad time. My first marriage had just ended, and I was, to say the least, at loose ends. By “loose ends”, I mean aimless and regularly suicidal. I mean that my daily routine began with me waking up around ten, smoking a joint, and going to the beach—where I’d drink myself stupid on beer, smoke a few more joints, and pass out to mid-afternoon…followed by an early-evening rise, another joint, and then off to the bars…”
~ Anthony Bourdain, “Medium Raw”
There is no evidence that Anthony Bourdain ever purposefully tried to take his own life in the past. However, from his own words we see that there were times when he was, at the very least, passively suicidal. This is when a person may not actively try to end their life, but they still engage in thoughts and behaviors that may put their life at risk.
But there isn’t always a clear border between passive and active suicidal ideation. In either case, the goal is the same – to end one’s life. And, truthfully, there isn’t much difference between “I want to die” and “I want to kill myself”. Both are warning signs that should not be ignored.
Relevantly, research published in the British Medical Journal revealed that someone who has ever attempted suicide in the past remains at elevated risk for the rest of their lives. Even over 20 years after the first attempt, the risk of suicide is almost two-and-a-half times that of people without a previous attempt.
Dr. Gary R. Jenkins said, “This confirms something we know about suicide, that the best predictor is a previous attempt…This paper proves what we have thought clinically — a previous attempt is a predictive factor even if it is more than two decades after the first act.”
Suicide in America: Statistics Reveal a Concerning Trend
As tragic as Anthony Bourdain’s death is on an individual level, his suicide is reflective of a larger, more disturbing trend in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates in this country have jumped 28% in less than 20 years.
To put that in a greater perspective, there are only three causes of death that are rising – Alzheimer’s, drug overdoses, and suicides.
Bourdain was part of two demographics at higher risk. Men are three-and-a-half times more likely to kill themselves than women, and suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death among males between the ages of 55 and 64.
Warning Signs of Suicide
If you or someone you know is exhibiting several of the following signs, immediate help is needed:
- Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
- Talking/writing about suicide or death
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Exhibiting strong anger or rage
- Feeling “trapped”, with no way out
- Experiencing extreme stress
- Suffering a major life change
- Suddenly losing a loved one
- Dramatic changes in mood
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Changes in personality
- Uncharacteristic impulsivity
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- A major change in eating or sleeping habits
- Sudden poor performance at work or school
- Suffering excessive shame or guilt
- Reckless behavior
- Writing a will
- Giving away personal prized possession
Not every person who kill themselves exhibits warning signs beforehand, but 75% DO.
If someone is in immediate danger, CALL 911.
If they/you are not in immediate danger, there are people to talk to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the National Suicide Prevention Line – 1-800-273-8255.
What Can We Learn from the Tragic Death of Anthony Bourdain?
In order to give this tragedy meaning, are several things we can take with us, moving forward.
FIRST, ANYONE can struggle silently with depression and mental illness, no matter how popular or successful they may otherwise seem. The signs aren’t always obvious.
SECOND, Substance abuse increases the risk of both depression and suicide.
THIRD, Suicidal thoughts, talk, or behavior should ALWAYS be taken seriously.
FINALLY, The single greatest way to prevent suicide is to reach out and make personal connections with others. Anyone who has reached that level of desperation needs to know that others still care, and that life is still worth living. No matter what the problem is, it can and does get better.
Anthony Bourdain will be missed by his family, friends, peers in the culinary world, and millions of fans around the globe, so it is fitting to end with his words:
“It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”