Van Gogh likely suffered "delirium" from alcohol withdrawal

Dutch master artist Vincent van Gogh's psychological struggles are well documented, from cutting off his own ear to his eventual suicide in 1890. Some historians and psychiatrists have suggested that van Gogh may have been schizophrenic or even exhibited symptoms of gas poisoning from carbon monoxide emitted by the lamps in the room where he painted. However, new research published in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders argues that van Gogh was more likely suffering from a bipolar and borderline personality disorder worsened by malnutrition and alcoholism. From the University Medical Center Groningen:

Van Gogh suffered from a combination of several psychiatric disorders, known as comorbidity. It is, however, impossible to diagnose any of these dis​orders with absolute certainty, although several frequently suggested theories are confirmed as being likely. From early adulthood, he mentioned in his letters various symptoms consistent with a – most likely bipolar – mood disorder in combination with a – most likely borderline – personality disorder. This was exacerbated by an alcohol addiction and malnutrition. Coupled with increasing psychosocial tensions (including a conflict with his friend and colleague Paul Gauguin), this led to a crisis during which he cut off his ear on 23 December 1888.

A new theory put forward by the researchers is that Van Gogh subsequently experienced two brief psychotic episodes, presumably delirium due to alcohol withdrawal, because he was forced to suddenly stop drinking alcohol following his admission to hospital after the ear incident. His condition then deteriorated further and in the last year of his life he experienced several severe depressive episodes, at least one of which had psychotic features. ​He was unable to make a lasting recovery, which probably led to his suicide in July 1890.

image: Vincent van Gogh, "Self-Portrait," (1887)