What do F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Eric Clapton, Carrie Fisher, and Robin Williams all have in common? All of these people made a career out of working in the arts- whether it is acting, writing, or music, and they all have struggled with addiction. Throughout history, many individuals who worked in the arts were also known to abuse alcohol and other drugs. This reputation dates centuries back, where writers and poets were notorious for substance abuse. Poet, Charles Baudelaire was known for opium use while Edgar Allen Poe, a writer, was known to struggle with alcoholism. That brings into question- is there something about having a creative personality that makes someone more prone to addiction? Or in other words, are the people who pursue careers in writing, acting, and music more likely to have an addiction or are there certain factors that make this trend appear more common than it actually is?
Prior to the 1960’s drugs were not largely seen in association with addiction. Awareness of the problem began to appear throughout artistic outlets such as music. Songs referencing drugs and addiction, such as Heroin by The Velvet Underground, surfaced in the 1960’s when drug use became prevalent in the music industry. A number of famous musicians during this time passed away at the young age of 27 including: Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and Janis Joplin. While each of these musicians engaged in a similarly risky lifestyle, the motive behind their substance abuse is not very clear. Factors like stress and the social pressure to continue producing original music may remain unaccounted for. As Atte Oksanen discusses in his research article, artists took to rock autobiographies to address the topic of surviving drug addiction, causing it to be a main characteristic of the music industry during this time period.
Thus far, no links have been made specifically connecting substance abuse to creativity. Factors like genetics play about a 40% role in determining if someone suffers from addiction. David Linden, a neuroscientist explains there isn’t necessarily a direct connection between creativity and addiction but rather “There is a link between addiction and things that are a prerequisite for creativity.” Factors like personality traits, experiencing traumatic events in the past, and the presence of other mental illnesses all contribute to an individual’s vulnerability when it comes to addiction.
While it’s clear that substance use was (and sometimes still is) popular in the music industry, it doesn’t necessarily explain why so many artists, actors, and writers are prone to addiction. It could be that drug and alcohol use is considered a common component of the trade. Or perhaps those who tend to be more creative are also more susceptible to the other factors that trigger addiction. Alcohol and drugs are commonly used as vices to deal with the stresses of public scrutiny that these professions often face. The increased media and fascination in the lives of artists could also draw attention to the issue, making it appear that those working in creative fields turn to substances more often; however, more research would need to be conducted in order to provide a clear link between addiction and creativity.
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Knafo, D. (2008). The senses grow skilled in their craving: Thoughts on creativity and addiction. The Psychoanalytic Review, 95(4), 571-595.
Oksanen, A. Oksanen, Atte (2012) To Hell and Back. Excessive Drug Use, Addiction and the Process of Recovery in Rock Autobiographies. Substance Use & Misuse 47: 2, 143–.
Sober celebrities: Famous people in recover. (2015, October 9). Retrieved April 9, 2017, from Amethyst Recovery Center website: https://www.amethystrecovery.org/sober-celebrities-famous-people-in-recovery/