August 17, 2020

Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan talks addiction, anxiety and his first panic attack

Sara M Moniuszko

“Suddenly I couldn’t breathe, and I was sweating in the shower. And I remember just pushing the shower door open, crawling out on the floor, putting a towel on and yelling for my mom,” he said.

He said his mom took him to the hospital where he was assessed and sent to a therapist who gave him medication. He also learned that he wasn’t the only one in his family to experience panic attacks.

Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan is opening up about his mental health struggles in a candid conversation with Lily Cornell Silver, the eldest daughter of the the late Chris Cornell. 

During Cornell Silver’s IGTV series “Mind Wide Open,” McKagan, 56, recalled the first panic attack he experienced when he was 16, saying it felt like the floor moved under him while he took a shower before school.

“Suddenly I couldn’t breathe, and I was sweating in the shower. And I remember just pushing the shower door open, crawling out on the floor, putting a towel on and yelling for my mom,” he said.

He said his mom took him to the hospital where he was assessed and sent to a therapist who gave him medication. He also learned that he wasn’t the only one in his family to experience panic attacks.

“Some of my brothers and sisters had this but my brothers are so much older,” he said. “It wasn’t cool to talk about. (In) my case, it wasn’t manly to talk about.”

He said that in order to cope, he turned to alcohol.

“I found that alcohol was a great coping mechanism for me, so I spent the next 12 to 13 years with my coping mechanism of a lot of alcohol and drugs.”

He also talked about the extent of his alcohol addiction.

“What happens is, with alcohol, there’s so much sugar in alcohol, with a guy like myself, and I think with your dad, as well, you can’t just do a little. Cause a little doesn’t work after a while,” he said. “So in my case, I got up to two half-gallons of vodka a day, a full gallon of vodka a day… and then I was doing cocaine, too.

He continued, “Cocaine is not good for panic attacks. It’s the opposite of good for panic attacks, so I would take pills to bring me down from too much cocaine and alcohol.”

McKagan, who has a 12-year tenure with the band, said he could do “all that stuff” and function and person “until I couldn’t.”

“My hair started to fall out … my body was starting to show it, like huge boils … and my pancreas burst from drinking too much,” he said of the adverse effects his substance abuse caused.

Lily Cornell Silver mentioned in the interview that her father also “struggled with addiction as a form of self-medication” for his own mental health issues.

Chris Cornell, who fronted the band Soundgarden for over 30 years, died in May 2017 at age 52 in what was ruled as a suicide.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.

Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.

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