Sign In:

×

Last Step!

Please enter your public display name and a secure password.

Plan to post in the forums? Change your default forum handle here!

×
×

How Winning Became an All-Encompassing Addiction for Andy Irons

Editor's Note: This is a clip from our new video series "Andy Irons: Raw Outtakes," which serves as an intimate glimpse into the anecdotes and parting memories that didn't make the film, told by Andy’s friends and family with insights on bipolar disorder and substance abuse from leading medical specialists. This digital series sets out to expand what we know about the world champion surfer's life and the hidden struggles he faced including substance abuse and bipolar disorder. For more information about the feature film please visit tetongravity.com/andy.

Andy Irons' life was one of momentous highs and staggering lows. Unfortunately, as we now know, the former three-time world champion's struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction ultimately derailed his life, and eventually lead to his untimely demise. And the sad reality of bipolar disorder is that it often goes hand-in-hand with addiction.

RELATED: Get tickets, see showtimes for our new documentary Andy Irons: Kissed by God

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the rates for co-occurring disorders–that is, someone suffering from a substance abuse disorder while already suffering from bipolar disorder–is exponentially higher than the population at large. Per the SAMHSA's numbers, somewhere between 30 to more than 50 percent of all people who suffer from bipolar disorder suffer co-occurring disorders.

"I don't think anybody really knows why people [with bipolar disorder] gravitate towards addiction," Dr. Andrew Nierenberg, the Director of the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told TGR. "There's one hypothesis that people are self-medicating. That may or may not be true. There's just another hypothesis that they're prone to sort of go over board with a lot of the drugs. But again, just think of it that here you have a brain that's dysregulated."

"We all take for granted being regulated, right?" Nierenburg continued. "So, you can regulate your impulses. If you're walking by a car dealership, you really see a car that you like. You don't all of a sudden say, 'I'm buying that car. Here's $50,000 that I don't have.' You don't do that. You say, 'Hey, I'd really like that car. I can't afford it. Not a good idea.' So, you don't do that. And when people get dysregulated, they'll say, 'Fine, I'll go buy that car. I'll just do that.'"

And for many with bipolar disorder–according to Dr. Mark Vonnegut, who researches bipolar disorder and suffers from it–one of the ways to chase the feeling of regulation, of normalcy and validation, is to chase achievement.

"I think as you're growing up you want to know what's different about me and what is it?" Vonnegut said of growing up with bipolar disorder. "What can I do about this? I never liked any of the answers."

Vonnegut says he was inclined to chase his manic highs with unrelenting fervor in much the same way Irons was–at the detriment to his life outside of surfing.

"I think it's tragic that in the... While you are achieving so much, that you are probably not a very good brother, you're probably not a very good son, you're certainly not a very good husband and so forth," said Vonnegut of his own obsession with accomplishments. "And so it looks like the price of achieving so much, it comes at a cost and it certainly comes as a cost to the families.. I was so driven at one time to prove that I wasn't mentally ill, that I could be the best pediatrician, and the odd thing is Boston Magazine named me the best pediatrician in 1986 or whatever it was, it wasn't enough for me. I said, 'Why aren't I the best pediatrician in North America or whatever?' While you're in that drive to achieve to fight the illness is nothing's enough."

"And I think the other side is becoming connected to your family, to friends, to whatever, and lightening up," he continued. "Andy never got a chance to lighten up."

As Vonnegut hints to, Andy unfortunately never received the help he needed, but it's never too late to get the help you need. If you suspect you or someone you know might be suffering from addiction or a mental illness, please contact the SAMHSA.

From The Series: Andy Irons: Raw Outtakes

Play
READ THE STORY
A Great White Nibble Leaves Surfer with 50-Stitches and a Story
Up Next Surf

A Great White Nibble Leaves Surfer with 50-Stitches and a Story

A Great White Nibble Leaves Surfer with 50-Stitches and a Story

2018 was a sharky year and 2019 is shaping up to be no different. At around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, 19-year-old Nick Wapner was surfing Sandspit Beach along California’s central coast when he felt a strong pressure around his legs. He looked back as his board was being driven out of the water to see the mouth of a great white shark closing around his ankles. He later said the head of the estimated 15-foot long shark was around three to four feet with massive jaws and beady black eyes.

Play
READ THE STORY
Jan. 9th, 2019: Huge Swell Hits L.A. County
Up Next Surf

Jan. 9th, 2019: Huge Swell Hits L.A. County

Jan. 9th, 2019: Huge Swell Hits L.A. County

Last Wednesday, Jan. 9th, 2019, a massive swell hit Southern California.  The region's top surfers were ready to take full advantage, as evidenced in the above video.  Surfers including Matt Mohagen, Nic Lamb, Tito Bourget and Patrick Miller were out in force to ride the large and uncommonly well-formed barrels which rolled in.   The all-time swell was due to a low-pressure system off the coast of Southern California.  magicseaweed.com graphic.   Related: A Great White Nibble Leaves

Play
READ THE STORY
“Sessions: A Left” Is a Beautiful Short of Surfing Across The Pond
Up Next Surf

“Sessions: A Left” Is a Beautiful Short of Surfing Across The Pond

“Sessions: A Left” Is a Beautiful Short of Surfing Across The Pond

People love Ireland because you can hide your alcoholism under the guise of travel and heritage. But now a new breed of tourists are flocking to the land of Guinness and Whisky, a salty band of travelers who prey on western winds and mid-winter swells, and pounce on cheap off-season airfare. If I had a dollar for every person who told me about their surf trip to Ireland I’d have three dollars and still be flat broke. Really though, it does seem like Ireland is the place to go and surf if you