Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong Reflects On Alcohol Struggles

Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong Reflects On Alcohol Struggles

By David Konow 09/13/16

The 44-year-old musician has now been sober for four years. 

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Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong Reflects On Alcohol Struggles

With Green Day’s new album, Revolution Radio, coming out on October 7, critics have already been hailing it as a major comeback for the '90s pop/punk rock band. It's been four years since Green Day last released new music, and they had a lot of hurdles to overcome to get to this point—not the least of which were lead singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong’s struggles with alcoholism, which nearly derailed the band.

Green Day had reached a plateau with their triumphant American Idiot album in 2004. It reached No. 1 in 19 countries and sold 15 million copies worldwide. The band was headlining stadiums. Pushing himself to keep up the pace, Armstrong admits that songwriting became “this relentless thing, trying too hard,” and that he was fueling himself with alcohol and pills “to a point where I was surprised I would wake up in the morning.”

Armstrong had a public meltdown in September 2012 when, as Rolling Stone reports, he was “blackout drunk” onstage at the iHeartRadio festival and smashed his guitar in a rage when the band was forced to end their set due to time constraints. “Let me tell you something, I’ve been around since 19-fucking-88,” he screamed into the microphone, and you're gonna give me one fucking minute? I’m not fucking Justin Bieber, you motherfuckers.”

Even though he had been busted for a DUI in 2003, the people around Armstrong didn’t realize his drinking was that severe until he hit bottom onstage, and bassist Mike Dirnt realized at that point, “The fucking path had gone too far ... It was, ‘We’re done. Recognize it. I can’t think about playing with you right now. You got to get right.’” One close friend of Armstrong’s called him “the most functioning addict I’ve ever seen.”

Armstrong finally checked into rehab after trying to get sober on his own for a number of years. Dirnt wrote to Armstrong while he was in recovery, and in one letter he told his longtime friend, “If we make it through this and we get back together, we're either going to be stronger than ever or we're going to not be doing this.”

Reflecting on getting sober, Armstrong says today, “My foundation was cracked,” and if he hadn’t gotten help, “I don’t know if I would be around,” he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview.

Today, Armstrong seems to be enjoying recovery with his family, including his 20-year marriage. His son, Jakob, is about to graduate high school and is releasing his own music. “I want to watch my kids go through their experiences,” Armstrong said. “I don’t want them to have to deal with that kind of darkness ever in their lives.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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