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Dr. Estes: Why Addiction, Depression Haunt Rock Stars

Dr. Cali Estes once rushed to a singer’s side when his manager alerted her to his unstable state.

“I’m gonna put you on a plane to make sure he gets through the night,” Estes recalls the manager saying.

It wasn’t just about getting sober enough to finish a gig, though. The rocker was in trouble. The situation could have been life-threatening if left untreated, says Estes, an addiction psychologist and founder of The Addictions Coach and Sober on Demand.

Estes wishes a similar intervention happened with Chris Cornell.

The celebrated voice behind Soundgarden and Audioslave was found dead Wednesday, an apparent suicide by hanging at age 52.

In Memoriam: Chris Cornell | TIME

Little is known about Cornell’s final hours. The rocker had been open about his drug addictions, but his death could be attributable to a number of factors, Estes says.

Being a rocker certainly didn’t help.

Estes routinely works with touring musicians to help them stay sober or work on harm reduction strategies to avoid more dangerous habits. The artists face several unique challenges which can fuel addiction, depression or related mental health woes.

The grueling schedule turns what once was a passion into a job, one that can wear on them over time.

“Sometimes they don’t feel like going on stage, and they reach for something,” she says.

Some rockers’ spouses aren’t supportive of their unique job demands. Or, in some cases, record sales are slipping, and their managers apply pressure to reverse the trend.

Age can play a factor, too.

At 52, Cornell still looked the part of a vibrant rock star. Age creeps up on singers all the same. Rockers and fans alike expect an image from 20 years ago, and that’s not always possible.

Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun

It’s hard to forget how an out of control rocker fits a certain image in our culture. It might be self-destructive, but fans sometimes eat it up.

“It’s cool to be high … it’s cool to be a mess on stage,” she says.

Friendly Betrayals

Another obstacle hindering stars getting the help they deserve? Their inner circle.

“People are paid pretty good money so the artist is a happy artist. If they need something, it’s gotten for them. There’s no questions,” she says.

The addiction specialist is careful not to read too much into Cornell’s death at this point. Without more information, specifically the toxicology report, his death could have been the result of a number of specific factors.

That won’t stop some reporters from speculating based on a finite amount of data.

“The press needs something to latch onto,” she says, adding some outlets are analyzing comments from his final live performance for clues about his mental state.

The Warning Signs

Estes say people seriously consider suicide can exhibit behaviors that should alarm friends and family. The person’s depression may suddenly lift, she says. They also may randomly give cherished items away.

In other scenarios, they might go from being very talkative to being completely withdrawn. Their moods can swing from happy to sad to angry, she adds.

“That could be drug use, mental health [problems] or both,” she says. “You need a professional to evaluate the situation.”

Photo credit: Matthew Straubmuller via / CC BY

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