Andrew Zimmern Shares ‘Traumatic’ Moment That Set Him On Path To Addiction

By Victoria Kim 01/19/18

Now decades sober, the Bizarre Foods host is opening up about the childhood trauma that led him to "crash and burn in a very, very, very even more deeply traumatic way."

Chef Andrew Zimmern
Chef Andrew Zimmern Photo via YouTube

We’ve all had a traumatic experience or two (or three) that we carry with us—some, more jarring than others. 

Experts like Dr. Gabor Maté point to childhood trauma as the turning point for people who later struggle with drugs and alcohol. For TV personality, chef, and food writer Andrew Zimmern, this pivotal moment happened at age 13.

“When I was 13, I came back from summer camp—summer of ’74—and my mother and had an accident during surgery and was in an oxygen tent in a coma. It was so traumatic,” Zimmern told PEOPLE Now in a new interview. “My parents had been divorced for six or seven years at that point, and it was sort of the seminal event of my life.”

Zimmern admitted that this experience “set me on a path to crash and burn in a very, very, very even more deeply traumatic way.” His mother passed away in 2011, according to CNN. Before that, she was in and out of mental hospitals.

Now approaching his 26th year of sobriety, it didn’t take long for the Bizarre Foods host to pick up drugs and alcohol. According to People, he started up as a teenager and through his early twenties. “I’m really a New York City garbage-head at heart,” he told The Fix in 2011. “I found marijuana and alcohol in the first couple of years of high school. By the time I was done with high school, I was a daily pill addict, a daily cocaine addict.” 

He hid it well for a while. “I was functional—I graduated high school; I was functional—I graduated college,” he said, though his time at Vassar College was peppered with suspensions and some jail time. 

College was a safe venue where Zimmern could mask his binge drinking and drug use. Life after graduation would prove to be different. “Post-college, the stories weren’t ‘Oh, you were so funny last night,’ it was like ‘Oh my God, you can’t do that.’ And then you start to lose people.” 

The New York City native’s life took a drastic turn as he forged on in young adulthood. Zimmern described to The Fix, in graphic detail, the squalor he’d lived in when he became homeless.

“Every day you’d do your hustle or whatever to get enough money for booze and you’d buy a bottle of Comet cleanser. And I’d sprinkle it in a circle around my little pile of clothes that I slept on, so that roaches and rodents didn’t crawl over that line and hassle me when I passed out at the end of the night,” he told The Fix. “It’s a pretty horrific way to live.”

He eventually tried drinking himself to death, but failed. “I came out of a black out days later, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have that ace bandage of anxiety and tension around my chest.” 

At that point he’d had enough. “I did something that I hadn’t done in 15 years, which is reach out to somebody to ask for help… Four days later, I had a one-way ticket to a treatment center in Minnesota.” 

He said that at the time he was ready for a change, whether he did it through rehab or not. “I always tell people that looking back, at that point I was ready. I would have sobered up in a liquor store at that point, I guess,” he told The Fix.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr