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Drug and Alcohol Abuse and the Creative Artist

Updated on October 22, 2011

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.


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