Chris Cornell: Depression, Drugs and SleepDeprivation

Having been in my early twenties when Superunkown was released by Soundgarden in 1994, the death of Chris Cornell came as a particular blow. Sober since 2009, it seemed that he had turned a corner on the depression and addiction of his youth. However, coming from a family with bi-polar disorder, anxiety and depression, I know all too well that depression can often be an insidious intruder throughout the lifetime of someone battling depression.

In an interview Cornell did with Kory Grow from the Rolling Stone, he explained some of the darker sides of his writing by saying, “I think that I always struggled with depression and isolation” and “I’d notice already in my life where there would be periods where I would feel suddenly ‘things aren’t going so well and I don’t feel that great about my life”. This last statement he said wasn’t because of a tragedy or catastrophe but one of a mood shift when things were actually going well.

We know from the autopsy report there were four drugs found in his system, Narcan (counteracts the effect of narcotics), Butalbital (a sedative for migraines), Ativan (anti-anxiety) and pseudoephedrine (nasal decongestant). The coroner’s findings, however, stated that these drugs did not contribute to his suicide.

This was perplexing when Cornell’s wife Vicky had stated in a conversation prior to his death, he was slurring his speech and belligerent. According to the FDA, Ativan can in fact make depression worse and even induce psychosis. What is also interesting is that Ativan a benzodiazepine and Butalbital is a barbiturate and the two do not interact well together. Add underlying depression and the outcome is unpredictable.

There is also the added stress of the last concert Cornell performed in Detroit Wednesday May 17, 2017 that could have exacerbated the drugs he had taken. Butalbital is a barbiturate and acetaminophen used to treat migraines which often are caused by physical and emotional stress and fatigue.

His wife Vicky stated he had returned home for Mother’s Day and stayed until Wednesday. He flew out that day arriving in time to do a seven o’clock performance in Detroit. According to cell phone footage, he was not at top form. Fatigue and drug can often be at the root of inconsistent presentations. Given what he had in his system at the time of his death, coupled with possible fatigue and depression, it seems logical to infer that Chris Cornell was not completely in possession of his mental faculties.

Given Chris Cornell’s age, his schedule that week, the drugs in his system and possible depression, it is very likely a perfect storm created a mental state that ultimately led to his suicide. As a fan, it is a loss that cannot be replaced but his family has lost much more. Their struggle with finding the answers to a complex situation is one also sought by the families of 43,000 Americans every year. That staggering statistic is not comforting but a reminder that most families are often left with enigmas to solve in the wake of their loved one’s death, Chris discussed, in that Rolling Stone interview, how depression and drug abuse affect every strata of society not just musicians. Perhaps his death will bring more awareness to those struggling with these debilitating diseases and prevent a similar situation to his own.