Jean-Claude Van Damme's Struggle With Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder, Cocaine, and Abuse Charges

Jean-Claude Van Damme
Jean-Claude Van Damme. Antonio de Moraes Barros / WireImage / Getty Images

He might be known as the "muscles from Brussels," but Jean-Claude Van Damme's solid exterior appearance belies a rocky battle with bipolar disease. He describes himself as an "extreme bipolar," alluding to his diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disease, which has wreaked havoc in his personal life. 

Van Damme and Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disease

People like Van Damme with rapid-cycling bipolar disease often experience severe mood swings, cycling from ecstatic highs to despondent lows within hours.

These mood swings are notorious for making it difficult for those suffering from them to function and can be scary for people close to them. 

As a teen, Van Damme has said he experienced bouts of depression that he managed through physical training with martial arts and ballet. Early in his life and career, said Van Damme, he was "... compensating for [then undiagnosed] manic-depressive disease with training. When I didn't train for a couple of days, I felt so low and nothing could make me happy."

Inspired by martial arts and bodybuilding film stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Van Damme pursued acting and film work, eventually achieving stardom in 1988 with the film Bloodsport. Around the same time, he began to self-destruct. He was married four times between 1984 and 1994 and says he started using cocaine in 1993, using up to 10 grams a day at some points. At that time, Jean-Claude Van Damme was married to his third wife, Gladys Portugues, but had begun an affair with Darcy LaPier, who would become his fourth wife in 1994.

His career began to suffer, as three movies in a row were box office flops.

Van Damme's Bipolar Diagnosis

Van Damme entered a rehab clinic in 1996 for substance addiction treatment, although left just days later and suffered a relapsed not long afterward. Then in mid-1997, after the filming of Knockoff was finished, Van Damme became suicidal, but that rock-bottom transformed into a turning point for him.

Not long after, he was formally diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder and placed on sodium valproate, which he calls "that simple salt."

E! Online quoted him as saying, "You just have to take a little salt, and since I'm doing that it's, like, BOOM! In one week, I felt it kick in. All the commotion around me, all the water around me, moving left and right around me, became like a lake."

In late 1997 LaPier filed divorce papers charging him with drug addiction and spousal abuse. A settlement was eventually reached. In the meantime, a mellower Jean-Claude Van Damme returned to his third wife, whom he remarried in 1999. However, the pair announced the second divorce 15 years later, in 2015, only to change their minds days later. 

About the turning point in his life, when he faced his cocaine addiction and quit cold turkey, he said, "It became a point where I wanted to die. I didn't have any reasons to live. Maybe it's selfish to say that, but I was not excited about anything. Then you have to find back your self-esteem. And then, slowly, every piece of yourself becomes precious again. One day it's, like, either you pass or you don't. It's not the drugs, it's a problem with yourself, which you have to cure."

Van Damme continues to be very open about his struggle with bipolar disease.