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Do Drugs and Alcohol Make You More Creative?

Written By: Harris House

Category: Addiction, Blog, Recovery

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Think your substance use gives you your creative spark? Think again.

Many people with substance use disorders think that their creativity is enhanced by their drug use. It’s natural, therefore, that they might also worry about losing their creative spark in sobriety. If you or someone you love is in this position, here’s a closer look at what you need to know about the connection — or lack thereof — between substance use and creativity.

Creative People and Addiction

From rock stars to renowned scientists, many famous people struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Many of them have also had drugs or alcohol implicated in their deaths. Tom Petty, Dolores O’Riordan, Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Chris Farley, Kurt Cobain, Truman Capote, John Belushi, Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Just Garland, and Sigmund Freud are just a sampling of names on a very long list of celebrities whose lives were destroyed by addiction.

It’s not a leap to conclude that there may be a connection between drug use and enhanced creativity. This assumption is further supported by claims that the likes of everyone from the Beatles to Edgar Allen Poe did their best work while under the influence.

Research on Creativity and Substance Use

Dr. Mark Dr. Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Nottingham Trent University (UK), recently set out to investigate the breadth and depth of research on the topic to conclusively determine whether there is truly a link between creativity and drug use.

Dr. Griffiths’ findings? “What the review of relevant studies suggests is that: (i) substance use is more characteristic in those with higher creativity than in other populations, and (ii) it is probable that this association is based on the inter-relationship of these two phenomena. At the same time, it is probable that there is no evidence of a direct contribution of psychoactive substances to enhanced creativity of artists.”

In other words, while creative people may be more inclined toward substance use, there’s no evidence of a causal link between the two.

So where does creativity come from, then?  In his book, The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ, Dr. David Shank writes creative achievements are attributable to “the combined consequence of early exposure, exceptional instruction, constant practice, family nurturance, and a child’s intense will to learn.”

Creativity and Recovery

Writing in a journal.

The creative process of writing is therapeutic.

Perhaps more interesting? That addiction may actually stifle creativity, while creativity can actually play an invaluable role in the journey to recovery. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. David Sack proposes that creative experiences facilitate healing in several ways:

  • by helping people understand and process shameful feelings in order to avoid relapse;
  • allowing them to express their pain and trauma through art, writing and role-play;
  • opening up new channels for connecting with emotions;
  • assisting in coping with loss and life transitions through the cathartic act of writing about them;
  • supporting proficiency in other aspects of life, and creating opportunities for “flow,” which in turn can help people in recovery feel more present and fulfilled.

Sack’s conclusion? “For people who can’t articulate their thoughts or experiences to a therapist or group, creative therapies can help them break through and slowly begin to find the words.”

Addiction therapy is multi-faceted and includes many elements, including behavioral cognitive therapy, medication, and support groups. When integrated into a comprehensive addiction treatment plan, creative therapies can further support healing and recovery. Leading St. Louis area rehab center has been providing individualized addiction treatment to people struggling with addiction for more than 50 years. Call us today to learn about admissions.

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