Mark Mehigan: ‘If it wasn’t for cocaine, I would not be in recovery. I would have continued to get away with the drinking’

At 33 the comedian and podcaster has already lived many lives, but his decision to get sober has been transformative

There’s a newish hostelry on Clanbrassil Street in Dublin called Board, which is a bit of an anomaly in that it does not serve alcohol. I have arranged to meet podcaster, comedian, online matchmaker, Instagram celebrity and author Mark Mehigan (pronounced Meigan) in this alcohol-free space because he has written a compelling book, This Is Not a Self-Help Book, about his experience of alcohol and cocaine addiction, and his subsequent recovery.

I’m curious about what Mehigan, in his drinking and drugging days, might have made of a place like this. “I would have told you the people running this bar were frauds and that everyone who came here was a fraud,” he says. “I had such a skewed view of the world that I thought people who were happy to sit down to have a chat over coffee were pretenders. All those couples going for walks or to browse the aisles of a hardware store on a Saturday morning, and seeming to enjoy it, were the greatest pretenders of all.”

An enjoyable life without alcohol was the worst kind of bad joke, according to the then hard-drinking, party-loving funny man. And now? “One of the funniest nights out I’ve had with Doireann was in Ikea,” he says, smiling. He’s talking about his fiance, RTÉ broadcaster Doireann Garrihy, who he met and fell for on his first date as a sober person. We’ll return to that love story later.

I have arrived at Board earlier than our arranged time, to find that the bar is so named because every corner is crammed with board games. There are shelves heaving with them, including one extremely apposite one called Drunk, Stoned or Stupid. On a wall upstairs are framed posters of board games: Chutes (snakes) and Ladders. Sorry! Monopoly – “Take the Risk or Lose The Chance”. It’s all reminiscent of Mehigan’s chaotic relationship with alcohol and later cocaine, which began on the banks of the river Dodder in Dublin as a 14-year-old school kid and escalated in Brighton where he went aged 18 to study for a diploma in songwriting and a master’s in that grand British tradition of necking pints at lunchtime.


It’s important to say that his drinking life, which came close to giving him a nervous breakdown before he gave it all up at 30, coincided with occasional bouts of financial and creative success. By 21, back in Dublin, he was running a nightclub, Brooklyn Zoo, at Andrew’s Lane Theatre, and had thousands of euro stashed under his bed. Another time he was flown by Mark Feehily of Westlife to New York and Los Angeles as part of his songwriting team. He made comedy videos that went viral and, when a friend sent him podcast equipment he couldn’t afford because his money was all going “up my nose or behind a bar” his podcast was an instant hit, topping the charts.

In his late 20s, he got a job running social media accounts for the BBC. He was, briefly and incongruously, the managing director of an electronic robot costume company based in the UK. He left before his three-month probation period was up and before he could be sacked for going AWOL on his daily drinking binges.

Mehigan observes that Fulham was not dissimilar to south Dublin: ‘The sea of gilets, dachshunds and arseholes made it seem like a safe place for me to swim’

Mehigan is now 33. He first started trying to get sober in 2019 and had his last drink in October 2021, after a six-week stint of sobriety that was followed by one final alcohol and cocaine blowout at his cousin’s wedding. “Getting sober is never linear,” he says. That last episode concluded with him sobbing in a hotel bedroom with his own vomit stains on the walls. The next day he confided in his hugely supportive parents and began “talking to other alcoholics”, as he puts it. At no point in our conversation or in the book does he talk about AA, respectful of that organisation’s rules about anonymity. However, the book is dedicated in part to “friends of Bill” – code for AA – and he’s clearly on a 12-step recovery programme, taking things one day at a time.

Mehigan is handsome, charming and eloquent. His hair is artfully tousled. He wears a long black coat, black shirt, black jeans and white runners. An old-school gold Citizen watch glints on his wrist – a gift bought for him by “a dear friend” in a second-hand shop – and a long gold chain disappears under his shirt. He admits, straight off, that he is “full of fear” about this interview. Hilariously, to me anyway, he had the notion that he was meeting some upstanding citizen with no issues who might be judgmental about all of his. I’m 20 years older than him, work at The Irish Times and therefore must have my life completely together. How could someone like me possibly not stand in judgment over someone like him?

Keen to alleviate his fears, I tell him about some of my own personal life challenges, including but not limited to the fact that after decades of being passionate about getting regularly out of my head on wine, I have also joined the ever-expanding ranks of the soberati. The man in black relaxes a bit.

Why did he want to write the book? Put simply, he was struggling to find his voice, to find himself. “I was around 18 months sober and I hadn’t accepted that my life needed to be radically different. I had one foot in my old life and one foot in the new.” He was a comedian by trade but felt he couldn’t make jokes, at least not the ones he used to make. “There was a period of time when I felt completely lost and upset. Like, who am I? How do I make sense of my life? Writing was an attempt to understand myself but also to figure out how to move forward.”

He also wrote his story because he is fascinated by what he calls “the grey area” of drinking, the notion that unless you are on a park bench with a paper bag hiding a bottle of booze, you can’t call yourself an alcoholic. For a lot of his drinking life, he appeared outwardly successful but it was all a front. “Inside I was drowning.” Even so, there are people he knows who still can’t accept that he is an alcoholic.

“What interests me about addiction as a whole is that it’s a spectrum,” he says, something that became even clearer when, a year into sobriety, he posted on Instagram about being in recovery. “I got lots of messages from people in this grey area, people who felt like they were treading water, or hating themselves ... That was how I was, ostensibly getting by but hiding behind a glass of red wine. It’s an awful trap. Not getting help because you don’t think you’re that bad. You almost feel embarrassed to ask for help.” He calls it “the undiagnosed middle ground of problematic drinking”.

Discussing his recent drinking memoir, Portrait of the Piss Artist as a Young Man, fellow comedian and Cork man Tadgh Hickey said: “You have to get to the bottom of why you’re drinking in the first place and address that issue. The drink is the anaesthetic taking away the mortal agony.”

For Mehigan, the “why” was multifaceted. He had what he calls “a poor relationship with himself”, which led to a terrible relationship with alcohol. He is fond of the phrase, “It’s okay to look back at the past, but don’t stare”, but in the book he describes his struggles with anxiety and undiagnosed panic attacks as a teenager. Aged about 12, he put on weight and after falling out with some friends at St Michael’s College in Dublin, there was a period where “Mark Is Fat” was scratched into every desk he sat down at. (He’s quick to point out that in addition to being bullied in this way, he was also sometimes cruel to fellow students. “Hurt people hurt,” as he puts it.)

He talks about a feeling of being an outsider, of wanting to escape. “I thought something was uniquely broken in me,” he says. “I didn’t fit my clothes the way I should. I’m going on sleepovers and everyone is more advanced. The reality is everybody else probably felt the same but they weren’t talking about it. It was me thinking I was the only one with these problems.” He cries a couple of times during this interview, once when talking about his brother who, on reading about Mehigan’s childhood issues in the book, texted him to say “If only we could go back”.

Alcohol helped push down the self-hatred. Alcohol numbed the uncomfortable feelings. For most of his 20s he ping-ponged from the UK to Dublin and back again, in fantasist mode, promising friends and family he was just one step away from making it big. His drinking and, eventually, prolific cocaine use ensured his longed-for big break remained elusive.

The book is a riveting, raw and in places difficult-to-read account of a life unravelling. I commend him for being so honest and he laughs ruefully. “There was a lot I left out.” It’s a story of extremes. He goes from living in a shed at the bottom of a garden in East London with a friendly motley crew of ravers and dreamers to living in a rich girlfriend’s two-storey penthouse in Kensington, taking trips on private jets while struggling to pay for Ryanair flights home for Christmas.

Cocaine quite literally brought me to my knees, on all fours in my bedroom, licking drawers in case there might be some cocaine there

It was around this time, aged 26, that he added cocaine to the mix. His problematic drinking was becoming more noticeable. His girlfriend suggested he might have an issue, a suggestion he rejected with a then characteristically toxic and abusive string of texts. He thought cocaine might help him become a “better” drinker. In the book he writes that the drug is “as glamorous as scabies. As sexy as a dose of mumps”, but that didn’t stop him. He was moving in a cocaine-fuelled social crowd so it was easy to form this new habit. It continued after his relationship fell apart and he writes about the insanity of smuggling bags of cocaine on the ferry back to Dublin in the stitching of his North Face jacket. “Cocaine is a very difficult thing to talk about,” he says. “People are accepting of the alcohol – like ‘He’s just a character, he’s great craic, sure who isn’t an alcoholic?’”

“There probably isn’t a family in the country that doesn’t have an alcoholic in it, and I would say there isn’t a family in the country that doesn’t have someone with a cocaine problem in it.” The “shocking” thing about cocaine use, he says, is that “it’s generationless. It’s everywhere, in all age groups, in my experience. And it’s important for me to talk about because I think if it wasn’t for cocaine, I would not be in recovery. I would have continued to get away with the drinking. The damage cocaine is doing to people’s brains and certainly what it was doing to mine ... it quite literally brought me to my knees, on all fours in my bedroom, licking drawers in case there might be some cocaine there.”

Despite his drug and drink use Mehigan landed a position with the BBC, to run their social media accounts for comedy programmes. He got in there by asking the woman who did the background checks to overlook the “flagrant discrepancies” in his CV. It turned out she was a huge Westlife fan and agreed, in exchange for Mehigan’s promise of tickets to a nonexistent reunion gig, to turn a blind eye to his lack of university degree and other embellishments.

He bought some outfits from Uniqlo and Cos for the prestigious new gig, thinking the Beeb-friendly uniform might disguise his drinking. He also got a house share in Fulham, observing that it was not dissimilar to South Dublin: “The sea of gilets, dachshunds and arseholes made it seem like a safe place for me to swim.” His drink and drug use continued and he felt sure he would be found out. One day, when he was called in for a meeting in the BBC, he feared the worst only to find out he was getting a promotion.

Throughout the book he is keenly aware of his privilege, describing himself back then as a “sneering, preppy, private schoolboy from Ireland”. He never wanted to hide his comfortable Dublin southside upbringing from readers. “As any recovering alcoholic I know will tell you, none of that matters. I speak to people every day of the week: we don’t share any commonalities in terms of our life experiences. But we’re unified by the unease with yourself, the disconnection from yourself. That’s what seems to bond us.”

The book is called This Is Not a Self Help Book because he is scathing of the self-help genre and suspicious of books that claim to be able to change people’s lives. He is equally uneasy about certain people, such as Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson, talking to other men in that space. Still, he hopes the book will be helpful, particularly to young men.

This goes back to his weight issues. “It’s okay to feel a little weird about your weight if you are male. That’s something that doesn’t get spoken about enough,” he says. “I’ve struggled with this my entire life. At the moment, with the book coming out, I’m nervous and my eating has gone completely off the walls. I’m burying my feelings with food. And then I hate myself for doing it and I promise I will never do it again. Then comes the shame and the guilt, the embarrassment and the anger. It’s not that this book is just directed at men but it’s directed at people who find themselves caught in this limbo or going ‘I should be fine, my friends around me are fine, so basically: be more fine’. More than anything he hopes the book might encourage people to ask for help. “Open up to your friends. To your parents. Tell them how you are really feeling about your life.” Mehigan doesn’t have any answers, describing his book as “less of a ‘how to’, more of a ‘please don’t’” but hopes his experience may resonate with those who see themselves in his story.

It was like untying a shoelace when you hadn’t realised your shoe was too tight. My shoulders dropped when I talked to her

—  Mehigan on Doireann Garrihy

These days, the pessimistic part of him is routinely surprised by his worst expectations of life not being met. “I constantly fall into the trap of thinking the world is not a lovely place. I am getting better at acknowledging those prejudgments now and saying, ‘See, Mark? That’s another time you were wrong’.”

On the second of November 2022 he went on what he says was the first sober date of his life with podcaster, radio host and Dancing with the Stars presenter Doireann Garrihy. It was love at first cup of tea, for Mehigan at least. It’s clear that this relationship has been almost as life-changing for him as giving up the booze.

“Sobriety has delivered everything alcohol promised me,” he says. This included a slew of comedy gigs, most memorably three nights at The Sugar Club, in March 2022, which to his shock sold out in minutes. But top of the list of sobriety’s gifts is probably his relationship with Garrihy. Before meeting in real life, the pair had spent a couple of months as modern day pen-pals, exchanging voice notes and messages on Instagram because he was too nervous to meet her in person.

When they did have their first date, in his apartment in Dún Laoghaire, “it was like untying a shoelace when you hadn’t realised your shoe was too tight. My shoulders dropped when I talked to her. And we both truly believe it wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t in recovery.” They announced their engagement on Instagram last December. In terms of moving quickly, he says their age when they met “is something to factor in”. Garrihy was 30 and Mehigan was 31. “We’d both been around a bit. When we actually met it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Usually I’d be texting people after a date, but I just stood on my balcony chain-smoking cigarettes [he has since given them up] thinking: what the hell was that? What was that? And ever since she’s just been a joy to be around. I’ve never felt understood by a person the way I do by Doireann. I feel blessed to have a person in my life that is so sincere, such a good soul.” He pauses, grimaces slightly. “I never thought I’d be saying a sentence with ‘good soul’ in it.”

The couple now share a home and a dog called Bertie – “he was in Doireann’s life before we met, so he’s my stepdog” – in Castleknock, Dublin. He doesn’t like weddings but he is now planning one with his fiancee. How is that going? “I’ve had to stop taking myself so seriously. I had certain ideas like there has to be a chin-stroking DJ from East London and no tuxedos, and I needed to get over myself. Bring it on. If we can have a good marriage, that’s better than having an exciting wedding.”

Life is busy. There’s his popular podcast Mark Mehigan’s Weekly Roast where he shares voice notes from his listeners about a topic of the week such as Holidays from Hell. He winces a bit at the word “influencer”, but a large part of his income comes from being a “content creator” and he does paid partnerships on Instagram with the likes of Google and Sky TV. He’s also become an accidental online matchmaker. This has led to live events and digital broadcasting opportunities. He has a dating column in a magazine.

Although a lot about him has changed, he is still very much the same person he was in his drinking days. He says he can still be judgmental, cynical and defensive. He has also retained his self-belief and steely ambition. “I’m probably a bit more pragmatic, more realistic and slightly less delusional now but I do think you have to be a bit delusional to be an artist. There has to be a part of you that says ‘You are good, you know’, otherwise you wouldn’t knock on the doors you need to knock on.” He wants to write a feature film by the age of 45. A coming-of-age comedy.

Then there’s his daily recovery, his conversations with other alcoholics. “It’s just one day at a time,” he says. “I’m no different from any other alcoholic, but I am in a position, because of the job I do, that I can write about it. So if that helps someone, amazing. I’m fortunate with my love of writing, that I can document my recovery and that has been helpful. But part of me is also repulsed by my honesty and vulnerability. I mean would you just shut up? Everybody has their own shit.”

“I’m only sober because other people have got sober before me. I just mimic them. That’s all I’m doing

He adds that “this open-minded and gentle conversation we’re having now is contingent on me practising a programme. I’m not a changed man who can just walk off now free, like I’ve done my time. It’s a daily practice because if I am left to my own devices for long enough that self-hatred comes. That internal dialogue which leads to isolation, it’s a daily thing I have to work on.”

Even as his book on alcoholism hits the shops, he is wary of becoming some kind of evangelist. “I’m only sober because other people have got sober before me. I just mimic them. That’s all I’m doing. It’s not like I’ve discovered any sort of answer or I have knowledge nobody else does. This is literally me just copying people who have gone before me.”

We’ve talked for longer than either of us thought we would and Mehigan has places to be. After a quick visit to the bathroom, he waves goodbye from across the room. Waving these days, not drowning. He puts on his cool-looking dark sunglasses and strides out of the alcohol-free bar into the early afternoon spring sunshine. I can’t help but wish him well with his life, his marriage and his career and hope that his book helps other people even half as much as he has been helped by his many comrades in recovery. (See, Mark? That’s another time you were wrong.)

This Is Not A Self-Help Book by Mark Mehigan is published by Gill