How Simon Pegg’s Depression Led to Addiction
The writer and actor kept his alcoholism hidden for years before finally getting sober.
Simon Pegg has had an impressive career as both a writer and an actor. He’s created cult comedy hits like Shaun of the Dead and been an integral part of two major film franchises: Star Trek and Mission Impossible. For science-fiction fans like myself, his full list of credits is truly awe-inspiring.
Throughout much of his public success, though, Pegg was also secretly struggling with depression and addiction. In an interview with The Guardian’s Tim Jonze, Pegg said that he had realized he had depression at just 18 years old, which was well before his film career had even begun.
For Pegg, drinking was a way to self-medicate. Interviewer Tom Jonze succinctly sums it up: “He would feel sad, he would have a drink, he would feel better.”
Even as his career skyrocketed, his mental health struggles continued, including his addiction. While filming many of his biggest hits, he was in the midst of his alcoholism.
Pegg explained to Jonez that it was easy for him to keep his addiction hidden. “I’m an actor, so I acted,” he said. In his experience, addicts weren’t at all the disorganized stereotypes as which they’re often portrayed. Instead, “they are incredibly organised. They can nip out for a quick shot of whiskey and you wouldn’t know they have gone.”
Simon Pegg’s experience with self-medication is likely familiar to many other recovering addicts. It absolutely reflects my own life story. Like Pegg, I was diagnosed with depression as a teenager, and started “treating” it with alcohol from an early age.
Alcohol made me feel better in the moment, while doing nothing whatsoever to address the underlying issue. In fact, by the time I eventually got sober at age 29, my depression had grown worse than ever before. This falls exactly in line with a warning from the CDC that excessive alcohol use may increase anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Pegg and I are certainly not outliers. In fact, alcohol use disorder (the current official term for what’s commonly labeled alcoholism) and depression go hand-in-hand with surprising frequency.
According to a 2019 review by R. Kathryn McHugh and Roger D. Weiss, Alcohol Use and Depressive Disorders, “Depressive disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders among people with AUD.” The really bad news is that co-occurrence worsens the outcomes of both disorders.
I experienced the difficulty of suffering from both of these disorders first hand. When I was drinking, my depression seemed to go away temporarily, but got worse in the long run.
Then, when I got sober at the end of 2016, it felt like the bill was finally coming due. As I stopped drinking, my depression spiked to the worst level I had ever experienced. It made the already difficult process of quitting alcohol even harder.
I had panic attacks, crying spells, exhaustion, and a nearly unbearable sadness hanging over me throughout the day. I often thought to myself that a life of drunkenness would be better than a life overrun with these feelings.
My depression peaked during my first year sober, but lasted with me long after that. It wasn’t until I took an active role in finding healthy solutions that I finally learned to manage it.
Therapy, exercise, and mindfulness have gone a long way towards actually addressing my problems, rather than just patching them over like alcohol did. Eventually, I built a life for myself in which I could be both sober and happier than ever before.
The World’s End
Simon Pegg drew on his experiences with addiction when co-writing The World’s End with Edgar Wright. The movie is a science-fiction comedy about a group of friends trying to complete a pub crawl which ends at a bar called “The World’s End.”
Fittingly, as they progress through the bars, aliens invade, putting the characters in the wake of a potential literal “world’s end.”
It’s a funny movie, but it’s also a parable about alcoholism. As everything goes to hell around them, Pegg’s character remains obsessed with finishing the pub crawl.
Pegg told Jonze “that’s what addiction is like. It’s like you have grown a second head and all it wants to do is destroy itself, and it puts that ahead of everything else — your marriage, children, your job.”
Although the movie itself is far from realistic, this portrayal of alcoholism is spot-on. Even when an addict’s life looks okay from the outside, their addiction is often their driving force. It can feel impossible to resist feeding that addiction regardless of how much it interferes with everything else in life.
I won’t spoil the ending of The World’s End, but Pegg’s personal story with addiction has a happy one. Through rehab and group meetings he was able to get sober and build a satisfying life with his wife and daughter.
To learn more about Simon Pegg’s experience with addiction, I recommend reading his full interview in the Guardian.