Among all the genetic predispositions and environmental factors that can lead to addiction, there’s one group of people who seem to be particularly at risk – the creative. There are hundreds of examples of musicians, writers, and artists who have struggled with addiction, and an unfortunately high number of them have lost. It might just be a case of fame and fortune, as the successful among us tend to live more lavish lifestyles full of parties and people to impress. It could be a matter of stress, from always being in the public eye. Or is there a neurological connection between creative genius and addiction?
Some of the biggest names in history dealt with addiction. F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps most famous for penning the Great Gatsby, was an alcoholic who died from alcohol-related health problems at the age of 44. Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, Dashiell Hammett, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jack London, and William Faulkner, all writers from the early half of the 20th century, were heavy drinkers. Painters including Vincent van Gogh and Andy Warhol have done various drugs over the years. The list of musicians affected is staggering, but a few examples are Johnny Cash, Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Kurt Cobain.
One theory is that people with such innovative minds are easily bored or view themselves as superior to everyone around them (whether warranted or not). Writer Ernest Hemingway once said, “I drink to make other people more interesting.” Another possible reason is that some people who become famous actually despise the public eye, and they drink or do drugs to release anxiety or make themselves more sociable. Yet another type is the artist seeking to stand out from the crowd. For example, writers who were part of the Beat movement of the 1950s, such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, were waging a war against conformity and used hallucinogenic drugs as part of their effort to reach a higher consciousness.
One study looked at celebrities who died a drug-related death between 1970 and 2015 and found 220 cases where substance abuse was a clear cause. Most died between the ages of 25 and 40. The number of drug-related deaths increased significantly in the 2000s, likely due to the rise of prescription opioids.
The way that an artists brain functions could account for at least some of the prevalence of substance abuse. In a person whose creative side of the brain is more developed than the organizational side, you might see ADD or ADHD. The medications to treat these conditions are commonly abuse, or people might turn to other substances to try to quell the symptoms.
Depression is another mental disorder common to creative types. Hitting a creative slump or struggling with writer’s block can send someone into a spiral of self-medicating. A psychiatrist named Donald W. Goodwin wrote a book called Alcohol and the Writer, in which he discussed a connection between alcoholism and depression and schizophrenia in an attempt to explain its prevalence in writers.
If you or a loved one need help to quit drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.