In May of 2017, Chris Cornell, known best for his work with bands like Soundgarden, Audioslave, and his musical opening for the 2006 Bond film “Casino Royale” was found dead (by hanging) after the Soundgarden reunion show in Detroit, Michigan. His death was ruled a suicide but his wife and many of his fans wondered if his drug use somehow played a role in his death. It was the same question asked back in 1994 after Kurt Cobain’s controversial suicide.
Chris began using drugs when he was only 12 years old — beginning with marijuana, prescription anxiety pills (benzodiazepines), and alcohol. At 14, he stopped drinking and taking anxiety medication and turned to hallucinogens. He used these heavily for 2 years. During this time, Cornell barely left his home, talked to anyone, and had no friends. It left him understandably depressed, so he turned back to alcohol. When asked about his alcohol use, Cornell said that as the child of two alcoholics, having a drinking problem of his own seemed inevitable and just made sense at the time. He abstained from hard drugs but drank heavily, well into his late 30’s. Finally, in late 2002 his bandmates in Audioslave expressed their concern for his safety and convinced him to enter a rehab program. Cornell stayed sober for 14 years.
Cornell’s sobriety ended in 2016 when he tore his shoulder. “The pain in the shoulder was waking him up at night and it was keeping him up…he was prescribed a benzodiazepine to help him sleep,” said his wife Vicky. Even for those with no history of addiction, benzodiazepines are incredibly addictive and habit-forming. Many celebrities who began taking them for sleep or stress later found themselves in painful withdrawals. Chris quickly began abusing the pills. His wife recounts that “in a seven-day period, he took 20-something pills and in a nine-day period, 33.”
After his death, Chris Cornell’s toxicology report revealed several prescription drugs and other substances in his system.
- High levels of barbiturates (prescription sedatives).
- Four doses of lorazepam (also known as the anxiety medication Ativan).
- Traces of caffeine (a mild upper).
- Pseudoephedrine (a decongestant and mild upper).
- Naloxone (administered by EMTs to stop a possible overdose).
When the toxicology report was released, Vicky Cornell stated that it was the drugs that caused Cornell to take such action. But the coroner officially determined that Chris Cornell’s death was a suicide and that his drug abuse did not directly cause his death. Experts added that it is unlikely that the “weird combination” of uppers and downers in Cornell’s system would lead him to hang himself and that research has yet to establish a connection between benzodiazepine use and suicide.
Chris was outspoken about his struggles with depression, as well as his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. He advocated for recovery and stood by his decision to be one of the world’s greatest rock stars, clean and sober. His death was surprising to his millions of fans worldwide and to his wife Vicky who had spoken to him only hours before his death. In an interview after his death, she stated that something seemed seriously wrong with him when they spoke — he was slurring his words like he used to when he took Oxycontin.
Was relapsing a choice?
Certainly, Chris Cornell should not have been prescribed a mind-altering, addictive substance. However, many people in recovery have to undergo painful surgeries, endure severe injuries, or physical traumas. Short-term, they have to take addictive medications like opioids or benzodiazepines. After a short experience taking the medication only as prescribed, or less, they maintain their sobriety without suffering a “relapse”. However, it’s a dangerous slippery slope and Chris isn’t the first celebrity to fall down it.
What could have been done?
Medication management has to be part of recovery. Whenever drugs become necessary for surgery or injury, doctors, family members, and a therapist or counselor should closely monitor the amount of medication taken. Most importantly individuals should always report any cravings just as those close to them should watch for drug-seeking behaviors.
The doctor could have provided alternatives to the benzodiazepines, including holistic healing practices proven to reduce pain and improve sleep. The doses could have also been more carefully monitored. Upon noticing symptoms of relapse, those closest to Cornell could have intervened and suggested a short term rehab treatment. Of course, Chris Cornell could have asked for help earlier as well. We cannot know what went on in Chris’s mind or body in the year of relapse leading up to his death. What we can do is learn from his experience, have compassion for his struggles, and stick steadfastly to our own recoveries.
If you are having thoughts of suicide due to an addiction, help is available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
Relapse is nothing to be ashamed of. Over half of people with substance abuse issues relapse after getting sober. But if you are interested in ending the cycle of relapse, then contact us. We have a reputation for helping others stay sober when other rehab facilities didn’t work and our graduates have a relapse rate that is 30% lower than the industry average. Call us today for more information: (855) 202-2138