Gabriel Byrne Calls 21-Year Recovery From Alcohol One Of His 'Biggest Victories'

By Victoria Kim 02/22/18

“I think like a lot of people, I drank to escape from myself and to escape from the pressure that I felt around me.”

Gabriel Byrne

Irish actor Gabriel Byrne said that putting down alcohol was one of his “biggest victories” in a recent interview.

Last Thursday (Feb. 15), the 67-year-old actor accepted a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA). The following night, he went on Ireland’s The Late Late Show and reflected on his career and long-term sobriety.

“I think like a lot of people, I drank to escape from myself and to escape from the pressure that I felt around me,” said the Dublin-born actor. “But I knew that I could never handle it, I was absolutely allergic to it. It was not a good thing for me to do.”

He continued, “With this lifetime achievement thing, it’s not about the work, it’s of a life and one of the biggest victories to me in my life was that personal one of stopping that and saying I’m not going to be that person anymore.”

Byrne is a veteran of the stage and screen who has appeared in dozens of films, TV shows, and plays since the 1980s. He’s perhaps best known for his roles in The Usual Suspects (1995), End of Days (1999), and Stigmata (1999).

His agent of 30 years, Teri Hayden, was instrumental in getting the actor on the path to recovery. She was the first person he went to for help. “She said, ‘At last. I’ll sort this out,’” Byrne recalled.

Since then, he has come to terms with the environment that normalized his problematic drinking. Growing up in Ireland, heavy drinking “was endorsed by the culture,” he said. “You were a great man if you had 10 pints and woke up the next day and said, where was I last night?”

But ultimately, he said, it became more troubling than something to be proud of. “That kind of thing became to me kind of frightening because my drinking was spiraling into a place where I couldn’t remember what I did,” he said. “One day I woke up and said, ‘If I don’t stop this, I am going to die.’”

Byrne acknowledged that a lot has changed since he left Ireland for the United States, and that he’s encouraged by how the culture is shifting. “It’s okay to ask for help. One of the great things that’s happened in Ireland since I left is that it’s not so strange or rare now to say help me, no matter what the problem is,” he said.

“It took me a long time to get help, to be brave enough to say I have a problem.”

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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