In every artistic field—music, literature, visual arts, comedy, etc.—there’s no shortage of famous people who struggled with addiction. That’s why there’s a myth that addiction and mental health struggles fuel creativity. While those with creative brains may be more prone to addiction, substance use only holds them back; believing otherwise can stop people from getting the help they need.
Addiction is Destructive for Creativity
“Genetic variants [to which people with addiction are more prone] make for a low-functioning dopamine system, specifically D2 receptors,” says David Linden, a neuroscientist with Johns Hopkins University. “If you carry those variants, you are more likely to be more risk-taking, novelty-seeking and compulsive. None of which are explicitly creative, but they are things that get to creativity.” While people with these variants may be more likely to drink heavily or use drugs, the further people get in their addiction, the more their creative work suffers.
One study found that alcohol was detrimental to creativity in 75% of musicians, particularly as a person’s addiction progressed. In her book The Recovering, Leslie Jamison (who is a sober author herself) wrote about believing her favorite writers were drunk their whole careers—only to discover that they wrote her favorite work after they got sober.
Addiction in Creative Professions
Still, if you work in a creative field, you may be surrounded by people with addiction. In a survey of 20 professions by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the arts and entertainment field ranked 2nd highest in drug use and 4th highest in heavy drinking.
While creative jobs vary significantly, many have irregular schedules, deadline pressures, significant competitiveness, and other stresses. These days, many artists of all stripes are expected to be creator, promotor, and business owner all at once, with themselves being their business. If it feels like others are producing more or better work, it can leave room for feelings of low self-worth and unfair comparisons.
If people who are creative are more prone to addiction, these pressures don’t help. Thankfully, more and more people are talking about addiction and mental health, which helps destigmatize these topics. Many artists work through these things in their art, giving them a healthy outlet; expressive therapy, which uses art as a therapeutic tool, exists for a reason.
Musicians French Montana and Ringo Starr, who are sober themselves, have both noticed changes among a new generation of musicians; they are less likely to glamorize substance use. While addiction is still and has long been an issue among creative people, it’s also true that people in creative fields talk about these topics more.
According to comedian Maria Bamford: “I think it’s gotten better and better. I think the only reason there might be some romanticization of it is because people who are creative are more likely to talk about it at work. You know? Like it’s not a cool thing to talk about if you’re an accountant or a teacher, whereas if I’m a painter, I can paint about it. I can paint a still life of all my bottles of medication. In that way, I think it’s less stigmatized to talk about in artistic professions.”
Stigma keeps people in cycles of shame and can make it more difficult to get help. Hopefully less stigma will mean we stop romanticizing something that can destroy (and in many cases end) people’s lives—and that more people in the creative arts can get sober.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build a great sober life. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.