The majority of the population has a challenging time understanding the nature of addiction, and what makes someone vulnerable to addiction. Symptoms of addiction may appear baffling to the average temperate drinker, who is able to control and enjoy his or her drinking. Sociability, conviviality, and celebration are typical associations with the moderate drinker’s experience with alcohol and/ or recreational drugs like marijuana, which has now been legalized in several states; however, the alcoholic or addict, who suffers from a grave, progressive malady, does not exhibit the same effects produced in the average person. Broken homes, strained relationships, lost jobs, compromised health, damaged social standing, and financial hardship are all common burdens associated with the advanced stages of alcoholism and addiction. In light of these astonishing repercussions, it becomes apparent that these individuals are suffering from a serious, life-threatening disease, that requires further understanding and investigation.
Approximately 7.4% of the adult population in the United States meets the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. New data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) shows that nearly 10% of Americans qualify as addicts (including alcohol). More than one half of American adults have a close family member who has or has had alcoholism. 10% of the population experiences this serious affliction to the mind, body, and spirit. Why?
In 1991, The American Medical Association (AMA) declared that alcoholism is a disease, both medical and psychiatric in nature. As early as 1956, The AMA declared that alcoholism was an illness. In consideration of these statements, the nature of alcoholism and addiction can be understood from three primary factors: biological, sociological, and psychological.
Biologically, those afflicted with addiction may be genetically predisposed to developing an addiction in their lives. Those with a family history of alcoholism or drug addiction are much more likely to develop an addiction themselves. Current evidence suggests that both men and women are 50-60% genetically determined, before ever even having taken a drink or drug.
Sociologically, the introduction of alcohol is a vital catalyst in signaling the start of full-fledged addiction. Continued exposure to an environment that encourages a high frequency of drug and alcohol use influences the advancement of the disease along a scale that includes increased amount of usage, and negative consequences directly related to alcohol and/ or drug use. Peer groups and environmental factors may seriously impact the occurrence and advancement of addiction. Habitual drinking may influence a person’s drive to repeat a pleasurable experience in the reward center of the brain, furthering the escalation of repeated use and rapidity of use. Quality of life may be severely compromised, encouraging one in the throes of addiction to pursue better feelings, both mentally and physically.
Psychologically, The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited alcoholism and drug addiction as dependence, recognizing dependence as a disorder of the brain. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism considers alcoholism a disease, meaning it is chronic, lasts a person’s lifetime, follows a predictable pattern, and has symptoms. One who suffers from addiction no longer enjoys control or power of choice in his or her ability to consume damaging, mind-altering chemicals, as a result of this dependence. Some addiction experts believe that self-medication through the use of drugs and alcohol is practiced in an effort to alleviate intense psychological pain and suffering. Qualified therapists at a veritable treatment center are able to diagnose these psychological challenges and assess the proper methods of treatment to combat anxiety, depression and other disorders.
If a mere moral code or philosophy were strong enough to make a person impertinent to the damaging effects of drugs and alcohol, the need for medical intervention and treatment would not be necessary. As we have witnessed in popular media and in our own family circles, addiction is a serious illness, which requires treatment and further understanding from the community, to promote recovery and healthy living.
The belief that certain drugs or alcohol enhance creativity has been around for centuries. Beethoven and Van Gogh had exceptional talent and were alcoholics. During the 1960’s psychotropic drugs were often taken by musicians to expand their mind and inspire creativity. Even today, Silicon Valley tech workers are justifying the use of micro-doses of LSD to facilitate productivity and creativity.
It is certainly likely that illicit drugs can lead to original thinking due to disinhibition associated with the drugs’ use, and artists often use them to overcome stage fright or performance anxiety as well. Drug use, however, can eventually impair the artist, rendering him unable to practice his craft without the continued use of more drugs or alcohol.
In particular, heroin increases the flow of dopamine to the brain resulting in pleasurable feelings. Eventually, the abuser will build up a resistance to heroin, requiring increasing and more frequent doses to achieve the same pleasant feelings. In time, the addict will lose the ability to experience pleasure from normal artistic endeavors. Such was the case with famous heroin overdose deaths like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Belushi, and Sid Vicious.
Other artists died prematurely due to causes exacerbated by their drug and alcohol abuse like Jerry Garcia, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, and Ernest Hemingway. Each one of these artists, and many others, eventually found their creativity stifled. In fact, when Hemingway received the Pulitzer Prize just a few years before his suicide, he remarked in his speech that the writer “…grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.” At the time of Whitney Houston’s death, she was attempting to stage a comeback after a number of years of poor performances. Jerry Garcia’s mental and physical health had been in decline for several years before he died of a heart attack after checking into rehab again in 1995.
Creatives are unique and admirable for their special qualities. They like to take risks, they think big and are nonconformist, they like to daydream and consider the possibilities, and they are keen observers of people and life and are willing to open themselves to new experiences. These are the qualities artists need in order to write, paint, and perform. For the artist who succumbs to the lie that drugs and alcohol will heighten her creativity, shewill find in time their talents stole away by addiction. To become and remain a successful artist, it takes discipline and thousands of hours of hard work. It’s difficult to motivate yourself to work when in the throes of an addiction.
If you need to foster your creativity, you will find healthier and more effective proven methods by getting outside in nature, switching up the time of day that you normally work, changing the environment that you work in, spending some time in a different creative interest, taking time for rest and exercise, and using your natural curiosity to learn something new. And if you are an artist struggling with addiction, it’s imperative you receive treatment. Make the call to get the help you need to live the healthy, creative life you deserve.