U2's Adam Clayton Talks Alcoholism: You Lose Your Sense Of Yourself

By Paul Gaita 05/17/19

"I was kind of very unhappy, so I drank and I drugged and I got myself in tabloid newspapers," Clayton said.

U2's Adam Clayton

Adam Clayton spoke frankly about the remarkable success he's enjoyed as the bassist for U2, as well as how that time in the spotlight was complicated by his struggles with alcohol.

Clayton appeared on The Tommy Tiernan Show, a popular Irish talk program, where he touched on how the band's rise to fame impacted his own mental health and dependency issues.

"You lose your sense of yourself," said the 59-year-old musician. "I was kind of very unhappy, so I drank and I drugged and I got myself in tabloid newspapers."

Clayton added that while sobriety was hard fought, he's glad to have made the choice to pursue it. "The alternative would have been a lot worse," he noted.

Clayton's conversation with Tiernan touched on a wide range of issues related to fame and dependency. In regard to the roots of addiction, Clayton said that he believed it to be a mix of family problems and childhood trauma. 

"Once you have that in your DNA, you don't feel comfortable," he said. "You feel restless, you feel questioning, you feel irritable and you don't know what to believe. Once you have that programming, it's really hard to undo it, and I think that's what I went out into the world with."

After founding U2 as a teenager with Paul Hewson (Bono), David Evans (The Edge) and Larry Mullen Jr., Clayton said that their rise to international acclaim within just a few short years left him unmoored. "Success went to my head," he told Tiernan. "I think that if you get everything your heart desires by the time we were 20—anyone I've ever met who's experienced success and fame in that way in those years, it takes them a long time to recover from it. And that sounds like a complaint, but that's just what happens."

Clayton said that he dealt with the attention through alcohol and drugs, which earned headlines in Ireland and abroad. "I embarrassed kind of everyone I knew, and myself," he said. 

But an experience in Australia during the Zoo TV Tour in 1993 brought the impact of Clayton's actions into sharp focus. After consuming two glasses of wine, he missed a crucial day of recording with the band at a stadium appearance. "I had let the guys down, the three guys who had stood by me since the age of 16 and 17," he recalled. "It was not a great place to be, and if ever there was a moment of realization, where you wake up and go, 'I have a problem and it's bigger than me, and I need some help,' that was it."

Clayton said that gaining sobriety was a challenge—"It was a struggle, but I'm really glad I had the struggle"—and staying sober has its own set of difficulties.

"I still have to really work quite hard at keeping my sanity on and off the road," he said. "Drinking can take me to bad places. My thinking is not always reliable. And it's great having three other guys who can check you sometimes, and we check each other."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.