Many talented, creative people have used drugs and alcohol. Some think a substance will help them be more inspired or productive.
Or they may be self-medicating their sensitivity. Sometimes they risk addiction.
Beethoven reportedly drank wine about as often as he wrote music, and was an alcoholic or at least a problem-drinker.
At least five U.S. writers who won the Nobel Prize for Literature have been considered alcoholics.
Actor Edie Falco said her past alcoholism has helped make her role as an addicted nurse even more authentic in “Nurse Jackie.”
Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman says he used drugs and alcohol earlier in his life – “anything I could get my hands on” – but chose to be sober, he says, because “You get panicked. I was 22, and I got panicked for my life.”
Among many other artists who have used drugs, alcohol or other substances are Aldous Huxley, Poe, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Tennessee Williams.
Writer Anne Lamott has been candid about her years of drug and alcohol abuse. “I got very drunk on a nightly basis from the time I was about 19 ’til 32,” she said in a PBS interview. She now finds being sober a “grace” supported by her Christian faith.
“I’ve seen a lot of people go down because they attach a harmful substance to their creative process.”
That quote comes from a post (on her Creative Intelligence blog): “Patti Smith’s Creative Coffee”, by Orna Ross, who also quotes Smith (from an Interview mag. article):
“A lot of it is purely habitual. They don’t need it, but they think they do, so it becomes entrenched.”
Smith admits “Coffee was part of my process. I used to drink like 14 cups a day… Now, if I want to go to a cafe and write and drink coffee for two hours, I just order them… and I keep diluting it — because it’s not the coffee, it’s the habit.”
[Photo from book Patti Smith: American Artist.]
Many writers and other creators use “routines” that help them get “in the mood” or encourage the muse.
But even something as supposedly safe as coffee can be risky: it is, after all, a psychoactive substance, and can increase irritability and anxiety for many people.
Why do we use drugs?
Changing our consciousness with drugs, including alcohol and nicotine, has a long history. Maybe for as long as we have walked upright, if not before.
Two of the possible motivations for creative people to use (and possibly abuse) drugs are to enhance imagination or awareness, or to self-medicate.
Johnny Depp, for example, admits getting drunk to deal with having to go to functions like press appearances: “I guess I was trying not to feel anything.”
He thinks drug use “has less to do with recreation and more to do with the fact that we need to escape from our brains.”
Creative people are often highly sensitive to sensory and emotional input.
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. comments, “It is not surprising that artists turn to drugs, alcohol, and medications to control their arousal or to recontact their inner self. But the long-term effect is a body further off balance.”
In her article Weed Girl, Belinda Housenbold Seiger, PhD, LCSW writes about a client of hers she calls “Weed Girl” who “never learned how to cope with her own busy mind.
“Many gifted adults grow up doing exactly what Weed Girl learned to do, that is they learn how to ‘numb and dumb,’ their passion and sensitivity by smoking pot.”
Of course, many people do learn to cope in healthier ways – and to drink or use other drugs in moderation, if at all.
There are certainly many ways we can become addicted to behaviors and substances – see the Psych Central section on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
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Last reviewed: 29 Sep 2010