The Search for Meaning

Science, spirituality, and our desire for satisfaction

Why Creativity Is Risky Business

Every time a hugely talented actor, musician, or writer dies too young from alcohol or drug-related causes, the perennial question gets posed: Does alcohol and drug use foster the creative process? Read More

I think really creative

I think really creative people have a lot of emotional experiences that compel them to think different. These emotions often lead to substance abuse.

Creativity and genius is

Creativity and genius is inherent in all of us - however most of us don't 'real'ise it. Until my early 40's I was 'normal', totally uncreative, then I succumbed to deep depression - so I went in search of the 'truth'. I'm still looking for the 'truth', however through a series of 'real'isations on this journey I discovered my creativity - I can now write, paint, draw, take pretty good photos too. And yes I do think very very differently to how I used to think - I actually think now.
So why do creatives behave in self destructive ways?
The answer is pretty simple - my world is now paradoxical - everything has its opposite - the opposite of creativity being destruction - it's a both/and world - this type of thinking is not nurtured in an either/or environment so creatives do tend to be socially isolated and are also drawn to fellow creatives, and can also have great difficulty getting others to understand them. These are of course generalisations based upon my experience, and other factors are involved.
The task that many creatives have is to hold the tension between the creativity and destruction whilst unifying the opposites to release the 'magic'.
This takes lot of practice and whilst I feel it's a natural way of being as I wasn't nurtured in this way it's a case of taking little, and sometimes very painful mental steps forward.
If you can imagine being pulled towards creativity in one direction and destruction in the other and it's your job to get the pair together in the same mixing bowl to 'explode' - sometimes the creativity will be stronger and other times the destruction. We have to learn to resist the pull of destruction even though we are pulling it into us - which takes a high degree of self awareness and self control. Having myself had several problems with my drug of choice, alcohol, fortunately I'm highly aware of when I slide - but sometimes say f..k it anyway.
Anyway - that in a very simple nutshell is way creatives can sometimes destruct.

Good post!

It's always good to hear from someone who has overcome such difficulties. I find that your type of explanation is often better than measuring variables in a lab. I understood you very well and you have great insight, which I will try to remember. Thanks!



Questions still lingering

I wonder also about how the disinhibiting effects of alcohol and drugs support the creative process. Many individuals I counsel for drug and alcohol abuse swear by their substance's creative effect--at least to a certain point. Of course, this doesn't speak to the factors listed above as important to developing creative genius. Perhaps a useful question concerns whether or not inherently creative people are more drawn to mind-altering sustances.

Creativity = Bad Behavior

Please supplement this information with clinical facts and studies.
Correct me, if I'm claim that creativity and/or eccentricity lead to bad behavior.
I am a graduate student and have to provide researchable statistics as to where my facts are drawn, or I have to claim that what I am writing is solely my opinion. Can you provide any facts for your opinions?

Who is to say what "bad"

Who is to say what "bad" behavior is anyhow?

I think creative minds use

I think creative minds use drugs and alcohol to slow down their minds, and once they realize this is possible, they simply want to experiment more.

Drugs is a tool people can

Drugs is a tool people can use to enhance creativity.
It's not meant for everyone, nor does it have the same impact on creativity for everyone.

In my days of smoking pot, it triggered me start thinking philosophically, it made me question EVERYTHING. My mind explored personally undiscovered topics. I also enjoyed creating my own philosophical theories. To my surprise, it didn't trigger the same train of thoughts in most of my friends.

Also, I've only tried psychedelics a few times a year ago, but it has instilled in me a heightened sensitivity to my environment and an appreciation of arts. I find I'm much more emotional nowadays, good music can now give me goosebumps, I get bouts of euphoria and I no longer dislike my parents. I'm close to 100% sure the drugs triggered these seemingly lasting differences I see in myself.


--according to your synthesis of the literature, uncreative people fail to see the complex nature of 'the rules' (whose rules? The Church's rules?) and are therefor easier to control simply by manipulating the presentation of biased information so that it's sure to permeate their cognitive filters. Creative people, on the other hand, are harder to control and manipulate because they question so-called 'rules' and exercise independent thinking, which to uncreative people (of course), looks dangerously like 'bad behavior'.

Don't even get me started on your contradictory aspersions on alcoholism. Isn't this supposed to be a psychology magazine? How did an 'evils of artists and alcohol' sermon weasel its way in here?

Love this... you are so

Love this... you are so right. I was subjected to psychological "treatment" and institutionalization at a tender age. It was a lot of pointing fingers at what's supposedly inherently wrong with me, and how I should better conform to "rules" of society. Society let me down from the beginning. I was raped at 8 years old and blamed, this on top of many other bad things happened to me as a child and I internalized it, as kids do. But to psychologists and the rest of the world, I was just a bad kid who needed to bootstrap my way out of it or take this drug that turned me into a zombie or had a myriad of other side-effects, only to STILL feel totally rejected and on the outside of the rest of the human race. When I learned to accept my differences and turn them into strengths, my life really turned around. It's still tough sometimes, but at least I have ME. I may always be an outsider, but I have myself as my friend. I am no longer bitter or hurt by the rejection. I accept it with peace and understanding.

Junk Science

Jean Cocteau was hesitant to give up his opium habit for fear of losing his creativity. He got clean and wrote "La Belle et Le Bete." I rest my case.

creativity and alcohol/drugs/etc

I agree with most of the article,the one thing it doest address is that those that have opened themselves up/or were that way by default/to sense more than strictly necessary for survival, aka being HSP (a highly sensitive person) often, in my experience, lean towards drugs, alcohol and other distractions just to tone down all of the extra input for a while, to let the brain and creativity just stfu for a few so they can relax. While it may be well connected to having a different view of right and wrong and 'rules are made to be broken' there are other aspects to consider. Self medicating to tone down the creativity for a mental and spiritual break is something to be considered. Sometimes they're just turning off or tuning down the darkness within them, the self doubt, the pain, the worry, the internal criticisms and fear, so they can actually create, without which they would feel lost and useless, unable to use their core talent so desperately needing to be expressed but the fears and dark were preventing them. There are many reasons creatives and sensitives turn to self medication and find reasons why it's ok to do.

Some things to think about to round out your article.

Thank you.

I use meditation, a healthy

I use meditation, a healthy diet and exercise to stfu. Self medicating is destructive as legions of recovering, creative people can attest to. Not so sure one is not looking for an excuse to medicate and check out. Stay present and move that energy into your creative output. Much safer and less of a chance of overdosing.

In search of empirical evidence

Yes, the answer to everything is "stay in school, don't do drugs, follow the rules, don't ask questions." How utterly ignorant, repressive, reductionist and wrong!

Things that make you go hmmmm...

This sounds more like an opinion piece and a cautionary tsk tsk...;)

pretty sure hitch died from

pretty sure hitch died from cancer, not a drug overdose. also, it #wasn't lung cancer, although he was a prolific smoker. #factcheck

Christopher Hitchens died of pneumonia related to cancer

According to the NY Times (12/16/2011), Christopher Hitchens had esophageal cancer (which is smoking related) and died of complications related to this disease - he died of pneumonia.

This article regarding creativity and substance use seems incredibly inadequate and probably fairly inaccurate in addressing the complexity of both issues.

Speaking of Creativity,If at first you dont suceed try, try, try Again

I would be interested in knowing how you measured the data you collected in your study, as to what you used as a definition of immorality, dishonesty, or creativity, or the measurement of the terms of an individuals survival of the addiction disease. Any equation can get you the number outcomes you want mathematically but how did you get those numbers dear? I am personally just glad people are talking about addiction in anyway thanks for that but I hope you realize I don't accept this article as profound knowledge, but at least you are testing a hunch.... Good luck Doc I hope you keep at trying to figure it out.God bless you. I hear he does that to all who "suffer" through creativity. I mean really so blasphemous is the person with the disease of addiction that I hope you continue to pray for all of us...because there are plenty of us still standing, creating, loving, and looking at the world in grateful space because maybe then all of our prayers will get through god's prayer line faster than the ones he gets from the "rule makers" or should I call "them" the keepers of oppression,greed and discrimination. Oh wait, that would constitute dishonesty now wouldn't it Doc? Please check your numbers and be sure to share them again!


No offence, but you sound like a psychopath. There's a lot of hatred in that post and I hope you can one day overcome that.

I think you just proved my

I think you just proved my point Simon name calling is not scientific, neither is labeling or assuming, I hate nothing about this article but I do believe there is a long way to go for the good Doctor before he achieves true understanding of addiction and creativity and why he feels dishonesty is a factor in this at all,in fact I encouraged him to continue to try and figure it out...I am in fact happy someone is researching the disease in any manor at all..Now if brutal honesty is constituted as hate well there is a problem right there...too many variables...enjoy your day Simon
Good luck to you in your understanding, Have a nice day! peace be with you!

Anytime people using drugs or

Anytime people using drugs or alcohol begin to experiment on a human being and call it creatively we all should run run run!!

Anytime people using drugs or

Anytime people using drugs or alcohol begin to experiment on a human being and call it creatively we all should run run run!!

Anytime people using drugs or

Anytime people using drugs or alcohol begin to experiment on a human being and call it creatively we all should run run run!!

Anytime people using drugs or

Anytime people using drugs or alcohol begin to experiment on a human being and call it creatively we all should run run run!!

I think they missed an

I think they missed an important point. They are treating creative people like spoiled children whose bad behaviors are a result of other peoples' tolerance of them. While I agree that it enables them. The WHY they turn to drugs and alcohol is deeper. They mention creative people are thought to have fewer filters on inputs from the world around them. I sometimes think I have this problem. It's like sensitivity, (though be careful with this word if you want to assume it is always a weakness, it is not. It's about CONCLUSIONS drawn from inputs you are sensitive to--do you take a negative or a positive spin on it?) you pick up on more than most, and it can be OVERWHELMING. Combine that with a negative spin on what you see, and let's just say I can understand why drugs and alcohol would be so tempting. When I have a couple of drinks, the world gets a little quieter and I have a break. Fortunately, alcohol doesn't seem to have the ability to easily take over my will, but in many cases, that's when the drink takes most. There may come a time when it does, so I am cautious. So we all have to be careful to know our own limits, and not let the drink tell us it's making us more creative. That is the drink's excuse to keep you drinking.

Bad behavior?

The conclusion of this article is a misinterpretation of psychological research. Creativity leads to "bad behavior?" Drug abuse isn't "bad behavior." It's a physical and brain based illness. Being judgmental about a biologically based psychological condition does no one any good. You have clouded the waters further for the lay public on the potential link of substance use and creativity and shamed those who struggle with an overwhelmingly complex condition.


I agree whole heartily!

Really ?

What a load of baseless supposition and idiotic conclusions. Just because the same parts of the brain that let someone think "outside the box" might lead one to create art or to breaking the rules in other ways that are illegal does not mean that creative people are more likely to be dishonest or that all dishonest people are artistic.

This is a really dumb article. It makes a lot of assumptions (based on what really ?) but it forgets about are things like morals and the ideas of right and wrong, emotional connections that artists have to their work (i.e. what often drives them to create works of art is not simply their ability to "think outside the box" as many business people can do that as well) or "channeling your creativity in positive ways".

I find this a very disturbing article as it seems to want to label artists at the root as equal to dishonest drug takers. How utterly charming.

Just because someone has to be creative to weave a lie or figure out how to cheat on taxes does not mean they are Picasso or Shakespeare, nor that Picasso or Shakespeare would cheat on taxes or lie because they could paint or write well.

These behaviours may have their root in the same part of the brain, but that doesn't mean a damn thing when it comes to "thinking outside the box" to create a work of art, good writing or a piece of music vs. plotting a murder or burglary ! Artists lack sociopathic tendencies and tend to have much more empathy and emotions associated to them - thus the EMOTIONAL side of creative artists would not let them do such things to hurt others. The reason so many artists turn to drink and drugs IMHO (having gone to art school and knowing many writers) is that they do feel so deeply, and the world is really depressing if you think about it too much - drugs like alcohol help to numb that feeling, not to free it. Additionally drugs like cocaine help boost egos, and in the competitive industries like acting and other performing arts I think that is why this is the drug of choice - these drugs are helping the sensitive emotional artists cope with their feelings -- not their creativity. Anyone that I ever knew who abused alcohol and was an artist generally had a troubled childhood or other problems and really was a sensitive person who was often depressed by the state of the world around them. They had nothing in common with thieves, murderers, rapists etc. (other than perhaps a light going on in the same part of a brain hemisphere).

What a poor article to completely ignore emotions vs sociopathic tendencies in the equation of why people do what they do - deeply felt emotions are a main drive of any artist I have ever known and most criminals in contrast have an emotional coldness to them and lack of empathy.

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Galen Guengerich, Ph.D., is senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan and author of the book God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age.


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