Drug and Alcohol Abuse and the Creative Artist

Johnny Depp

The long list of my personal heroes who had alcohol abuse problems

The list of artists and creative people that I most admire that have had alcohol or substance abuse problems is a very long list. I have wondered, time and time again, is there a connection between drug and alcohol abuse and creativity? Do you need to have a drug or alcohol abuse problem in order to be creative ? Does drug and alcohol abuse enhance the creative mind, open it up, let it fly free to create the works of art and literature that I most admire? Is there something about the altered state of consciousness that alcohol or drugs bring that makes a person more creative?

Beethoven drank wine while composing his music. His personal habits were reputedly foul; he was often publicly drunk and oblivious to his personal appearance. Yet he created the most beautiful, immortal music ever written.

Aldous Huxley experimented heavily with drugs; predominantly opium. He believed an altered state of consciousness was necessary for him to create.

I don't believe Coleridge would ever have written "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" had he not been strung out on opium at the time. He called it " a pipe dream", and so it was.

Fyodor Doestoevsky was an inveterate drinker and a compulsive gambler. Part of what impelled him to write was the desperate need for the money to support his addictions.

Charles Dickens was, by all reports, more than a social drinker.

Guy De Maupassant wrote one of the eeriest, most haunting short stories ever written, called "La Horla", when he was addicted to laudenaum and alcohol, and very near the end of his life. He died at an early age from syphilis, which was incurable at that time.

Johnny Depp admits to being drunk in order to go to press conferences. He says, "It isn't recreational. I guess I was trying not to feel anything."

Paul Gauguin was an alcoholic. So were:

  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • John Steinbeck
  • Tennessee Williams
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Eugene O'Neill
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay (who was also addicted to codeine)
  • Dorothy Parker
  • William Faulkner
  • Thomas Wolfe
  • Stephen King
  • Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin

and many more.

Mozart's Piano Concerto #21

In an article called "Weed Girl" Belinda Housenbold, PhD writes about a certain client who goes under the pseudonym of "Weed Girl". This girl is a teenager who copes by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. She "never learned to cope with her own busy mind". I love that quote. I feel I understand it perfectly. It does seem at times one's own mind will not leave one alone; then what? Is it time for a cocktail? Does the neighborhood pub seem like the place to be all of the sudden? I really think I can relate to that, though not to the point of a problem with abuse.

I believe a lot of extremely gifted artists do the same thing: they need a rest from their own relentless minds, so they overindulge in drinking, they indulge in alcohol and drug abuse, to numb down their passion, dull their sensitivities, so they can work.

I don't believe alcohol and drug abuse enhances their sensitivities or expands their artistic visions; they may believe it does...I don't. I think they are just turning down the noise inside their own heads with drug and alcohol abuse in order to create.

It's a dangerous thing to think, that drug and alcohol abuse are a necessary part of being an artistic genius, or that drug and alcohol abuse enhance creativity.

Writer Pearl S. Buck commented, "The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive."

Johnny Depp says, "Drug use has less to do with recreation and more to do with the fact we need to escape from our brains. We need to escape from everyday life. It's self-medication."

Addiction, drug and alcohol abuse are modern constructs that occur in all walks of life. Any class of person, in any circumstances can respond to the pain of being human with drug or alcohol abuse. This pain, this frustration, of being human, may be much more severe for highly sensitive, gifted, talented people. Many of those great artists, writers and musicians whose work I so much admire have suffered in their personal lives from these addictions, and many have died young. Maybe drug and alcohol abuse are occupational hazards for the artist. If so, I wonder what these wonderful people could have done, had they no bad habits.


Comments 49 comments

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Me, too. Exactly. I couldn't have said it better.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

@Paradise7...No, I wasn't confused about your personal attitude and choices towards the subject matter of this Hub. You were crystal clear in your Hub and in the comments about your personal choices.

I stand in that line, also. Your comment on sometimes thinking it was just fear that kept you from excesses and totally exploring your own creative flexibility is valid. I sometimes have that thought about myself. But, I won't change my lifestyle. I like clarity of mind!!


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York Author

I really feel the same way, though I hope you couldn't tell it from reading this piece. I didn't want to sound judgemental, nor negative, about some of my very favorite artists of all kinds, with this problem.

Me, I don't like losing mental capacity or physical coordination, so I don't have any real problems like these artists do. I'm blessed with so much less of both to begin with.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

@Paradise...Thoughtful Hub.

I don't think Pearl S. Buck got it right, suggesting that "inhumanely sensitive" or "abnormally" born humans are the only truly creative people.

I'm sorry for Johnny Depp if he still thinks he needs to escape, and drugs and alcohol are the answers to that.

Drugs and alcohol are known depressants. They don't connect the mind to anything, they destroy it. Why have so many creative people drugged and drunk themselves to death, or to a lessened awareness? It's Depp's escape. They can't tolerate the intrusion into their lives that keeps them from their work, so they find another way to escape. But it isn't an escape, after all. Their situation always worsens.

Publicity always comes to and from the hit artist. Then he begins to destroy himself with mind junk. Tolerable publicity or little publicity comes to and from the lower level artists, and there are a great many more of them than there are phenoms at the top.

Why do I write? I do it for the beauty of creativity and the pure joy of it, and I'll keep my mind, thank you.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment. I don't think you're alone there, based on what I've read. I really do know what you mean, though my life choices have led me away from excess, I sometimes think it was just out of fear to go all the way with whatever creative impulses drive me.


Sonja Saniinejad 4 years ago

Alcohol allows me to paint. I can paint sober as well, but when I have a drink, just one or two shots, I am focused and inspired to draw. It is strange I love to paint, but I don't, because painting only makes me really happy when I have had a drink.


helena nepando 4 years ago

i just want to be a member , i dont have any comment by now................


Mindy Meisel profile image

Mindy Meisel 4 years ago from Austin, Texas

Very well orchestrated Hub. I like the facts and your insight.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment, and I think you've got it.


grinnin1 profile image

grinnin1 4 years ago from st louis,mo

Well said and so true, unfortunately. I never thought of it as a way to calm the brain, but that makes sense, especially since so many of the artists who are addicts are super high functioning,gifted, creative, high energy indivicuals.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York Author

I understand your point; I'm always afraid that drugs are more harmful than beneficial in the long run.


Steph 4 years ago

Drugs to not breed creativity.. But they allow u access to other areas of the brain and CAN help with creativity, as long as you don't allow them to rule your life, they can be beneficial.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York Author

That's right. If you take away all our indulgences, why go through life? It wouldn't be too much fun!


benzino84 profile image

benzino84 4 years ago from Saint Joseph, Missouri

Whether it be food or drug substances or mere addictive behaviours, we are all killing ourselves in some way. Or perhaps we are living.


wj-writingjockey profile image

wj-writingjockey 4 years ago from Earth

Nice insight... My take on it would be that excess of everything is bad. Talented people are talented...Taking drugs has nothing but an imaginative effect on our minds. But after all, it our minds that shapes our actions. Our complexity is quite unexplainable, especially when it comes to co-relating our actions and achievements to something that has in fact nothing to do with it. But the effect of such co-relation vary from individual to individual. This is why we say 'each person's mind is a separate filter.'

Nice article !


Josh Vanderpool 4 years ago

my question is would addiction even be a problem if all the super powers of the world didn't program it into us as children after the boomin 60's think about it, in the 1950s the image is a "great society where everyone acts like burt from mary poppins and is completely ecstatic 24/7." the 1950s were huge into drugs but most of the population never expressed and kept it under wraps. Doctors would prescribe opium, meth, cocaine, and barbituates like they were literally going out of style. no one ever judged these people no one still ever does but it "addiction" problem was still there in today's classifications. the point is most everyone was always fked up in the 40s n 50s but no one ever bothered anyone about it and they all got along just fine. SO IS ADDICTION REALLY PRESENT OR IS IT A FIGMENT OF THE GOVERNMENT TRYING TO CREATE MORE ROBOTS?!


hubber088 profile image

hubber088 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

These alcoholics inspire me!


ladybluewriter profile image

ladybluewriter 4 years ago from Oklahoma City, Ok.

I have also been representing music artist that want to become popular and wanted to become the top of the charts. When I called in the media to the club, then they were too drunk to represent them and the crowd was as I say crocked. The band was also crocked. The day they cleaned the recording studio was the day they actually started to take off as a band. Now I am not advocating no alcohol but rather when and where and how it is used. Creativity when over masked cannot be powerful. The control mechanism of creativity should be more personified than the use of alcohol in controlling insecurity of crowds and performance. I did like Johnny Depp Character of the Pirate who acted drunk. It was his character he played that you could see the quality of acting.


addiction rehabs 5 years ago

Nice post. Hub always gives good information. Its sound bad that various artists, who have creative mind, are engaged in addiction but this is not mean that all artists are same. Well I can wish only for them to overcome their addiction.

http://www.teensdrugrehabs.com/


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you for the comment, justfortoday. Very true!


justfortoday profile image

justfortoday 5 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

i appreciate this hub. Yes, many artists use drugs and alcohol, but this is true of people in all professions. And we must be honest that there are several artists that have not abused alcohol or drugs. People with addictions often have a lot of pain that using drugs/alcohol help numb. We feel their pain and passion in their art. Interesting piece of work.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Manthy, thank you for the comment. I, too, am immensely sad that Amy Winehouse died. I thought she was an OUTSTANDING singer, and we will miss her.

Thank you also for understanding.


manthy profile image

manthy 5 years ago from Alabama,USA

It is sad that Amy Winehouse has died and I get it now, I didn't get this in my first read but I get it now.

They creative artists actual feel it and it may lead to addiction. I'm like that when I play lead guitar, I can feel the notes I play


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you so much for the comment, Jo. It's always so nice to get your comments, because you and I seem to be of the same mind. I don't think God wants us to abuse our bodies in any way, and has given us a path away from vice, away from the self-indulgent kinds of sin.

Some people's creative lives lead them towards God, (Bach is a GREAT example of that), and other people's creative lives lead them away from God. Mozart, with all that lovely music in his head, is an example of that.

I think the creations of the artist are gifts for us all, no matter what the person's habits are. I simply feel deeply sorry for the suffering involved in the creative artist's addictions.


Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

Jo_Goldsmith11 5 years ago

I loved the music of Mozart's Piano Concerto #21.

In my opinion, some drugs that were on this earth before man. Are here because of its medicinal purpose. I don't think God ever intented for anything he gives us or allows us to have, to be abused. As flesh and blood and the whole free will thing. We make the choice to stay within the parameters of "medication" to "addiction". I can agree with you on we have lost far too many brilliant people to drugs that were misused and abused. I voted up!


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

I don't either, not really, but I do think that highly creative people may be more subject to drug and alcohol abuse. Maybe. Maybe not!


manthy profile image

manthy 5 years ago from Alabama,USA

I must say this is an interesting hub but I just don't believe that drugs & alcohol help anyone to be creative.

In fact I think it actually has the opposite effect.

But kudos for writing the hub ;0)


dibsdooley 5 years ago

i dont think that taking drugs has anyhting to do with them being creative i think that there were a lot of people on drugs and there always have been its just that with artist we are looking for why they do what they do and are always looking for meaning behind them and there work so what if they took drugs over half the world is high.


arak1547 profile image

arak1547 5 years ago from Akron

Beautiful! Thank you!


Tkumah profile image

Tkumah 5 years ago

Abuse is what? Everyone's tolerance level is different...

Thoughts provoking hub, thought you would like the movie the Drunken Master by jackie Chan... youtube...


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

very impressive :)


SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 5 years ago from Philippines

The inability to cope with pressure from daily life and work whether mundane or artistic would certainly be a reason for drug and alcohol abuse.The question if alcohol or drugs contribute to creativity should be treated as a separate issue. Are we more creative when we're drunk or stoned? It just does not seem possible to be creating or working or simply driving a car in an altered state of mind at 100% capacity of our human potential.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment, Pamela. I really do agree with you about SK's writing going downhill a bit. It might be he's just storied out.


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

Being artistic and a bit crazy seem to go hand in hand. Self medicating is what a lot of them do.

I have noticed since Stephen King quit cocaine his writing hasn't been as good. I hate to think that is the only way he can write well.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, HC. Yeah, I think so, really.


H.C Porter profile image

H.C Porter 5 years ago from Lone Star State

Great Writing... I have often wondered if creative’s tend to have these sort of issues, more so than others...almost as if it is a requirement to have a tortured sense of self? Or maybe that is just me...lol... Great Hub Regardless.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you both, Sylvia and ahorseback, for your kind appreciation of this hub.


ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago

Paradise7 , There is always the fine line between 'users and abusers". Such a grey area...It is also well known that the genious mind is also , at times , A bit flawed. Observations of many like those in your list show that we are all suceptable to abusing the need for escape, uphoria ,or even how many use for the stimulation of artistic indeavors. Great hub!


Sylvia Leong profile image

Sylvia Leong 5 years ago from North Vancouver (Canada)

Great Hub! I like this take on creativity & substance abuse.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you, izettl and argdraw for your comments. I really think it is a catch-22 situation. Highly strung, hypersensitive and creative people often have a very difficult time adapting to the everyday world, and are often not accepted very well by the societies they live in, due to their unconventional thinking, their out-of-the-box lifestyles. Many great artists were incipient schizophrenics, too.

I really do believe the drug and alcohol abuse of the creative artist is an attempt to moderate or numb down the hypersensitivity, both emotional and sensory, that gives them pain. Whether or not it actually enhances their work, or allows them to work, is something I can't determine. I've found material that would indicate yes; other material that would indicate no.

I really can't believe any person, however creative, is better off as an individual, or happier or healthier, to be addicted to either drugs or alcohol or both.


argdraw 5 years ago from London

another great hub,

I had guessed it was going to be the complete opposite before I read it, that the mind is released, allowing easier sharing, but your point is well made, I will now return to my slumber pondering whether im looking at the world upside down.


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

Great hub and what topic. I just did a hub about the end of the creative process and I was reminded about some of our greatest artists, writers, and musicians had some creative help (drug and alcohol). It's kind of a catch 22- some really great creative people emerged because of drugs and alcohol and even mental illness/madness, but we don't tolerate those things in our society so we may see a decline in creative works. Just a thought.


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

Great hub and what topic. I just did a hub about the end of the creative process and I was reminded about some of our greatest artists, writers, and musicians had some creative help (drug and alcohol). Creativity is ceasing in our society and we give prescription drugs to those who have heightened sensitivity or anything beyond the norm. It's kind of a catch 22- some really great creative people emerged because of drugs and alcohol and even mental illness/madness, but we don't tolerate those things in our society so we may see a decline in creative works. Just a thought.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, BenJay!


BenJay profile image

BenJay 5 years ago

Good hub. Good observations. Good writing. Good.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment. I think a lot of people have some sort of heightened sensitivity that they are trying to blunt with alcohol and drugs, everyday ordinary people as well as famous or successful creative artists. It's just my opinion. I've found very little hard data to support my thesis, though there is some.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States

I believe alcoholism and drug addiction are a disease. I've known alcohols that have told me it started out fun and somewhere I crossed over the line where I couldn't function without it. If they hit bottom, then they get help. There are a lot of stars with the problem and we are aware of them because it gets publicized, but there are millions of every day with the problem that we never hear about. Many die or never get sober. There are no statistics available that I am aware of that say the percentage of talented people that are alcoholics is any higher than the everyday public. They have more money so maybe more get into the more expensive drugs. Interesting article.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you, Elf, for those kind words.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

Interesting article. You make an compelling case for why so many creative people seem to feel the need to self-medicate. I believe there are some other factors involved as well, but I certainly agree with what you have put forward. Rated up!

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