Bittersweet Distractor

at the intersection of music and psychology

Drugs – The Anti-Creativity?

There was an interview in Spin this month with the only constant member of the prolific band The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle. Darnielle is a former heroin user who noted that his drug-using period did not coincide with his music-making period:

“…the idea of drug-fueled creativity is weird to me because I think a proper addict puts his creativity into his using: ‘Why should I worry about making something when I could be getting high?’ You can’t court two mistresses, you know?”

This makes sense to me, and yet we do often associate addiction with creativity – from the Beatles to Charlie Parker, from Keith Moon to Keith Richards. With maybe the exception of hallucinogens (which can actually conjure new images in the mind), there is no way that the use of drugs in itself can enhance creativity. I think that successful artists and musicians are often addicts because there might be some underlying trait that causes people to be vulnerable to both the curse of addiction and the curse of creativity. After all, there are “addictive” personalities, and these personalities are rich tapestries of features. Having a creative mind may come with the side effect of liking unnatural reinforcers a bit too much. Who knows?

Another possibility is that the variable behind both drug use and artistic expression is some sort of mental instability. After all, there is a strong connection between mental disorder and creativity, which has been explored by many researchers, including Kay Redfield Jamison (a victim of bipolar disorder herself, she is a gifted writer – see “Touched by Fire” for her treatment of this particular subject). Schizophrenia and mania are especially likely to influence the creative mind. I’m not saying that drug addiction isn’t also a mental disorder, but it is an externalizing one, and one could argue that art is just another form of externalizing some inner torment.

On a related note, the Strokes are back together after a hiatus. Part of the reason they stopped recording in the first place? Albert Hammond, Jr. was in rehab. Yup.

March 31st, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments


  1. I would agree that creativity is linked to an addictive personality. Or perhaps rather that a person needs a similar driving force she uses in her addiction to finish a creative piece? Think about how much time/energy/effort you need to write a book, compose an album, or paint something. So many people start and never finish. It takes a kind of obsession and maybe a kind of narrow-mindedness to put in everything it takes to complete a work. So could we link addictive personalities to productivity?

    Comment by ALI | April 13, 2011

  2. Hmm, yeah I guess the addictive personality is what I was getting at with a “common underlying cause” for both. I never thought about the motivational/obsessional aspect to both activities, though. That’s a really good point!

    Comment by karolina | April 15, 2011

  3. Great post thanks.

    Comment by neutrogena coupons | May 9, 2011

  4. Strokes are back together after a hiatus….

    Comment by Lane Bryant | June 22, 2011

  5. Fantastic ! i bookmarked your blog.

    Comment by Ralph lauren | July 22, 2011

  6. This makes sense to me, and yet we do often associate addiction with creativity – Why ?

    Comment by Coupons | August 11, 2011

  7. I would agree with Darnielle’s point that addiction is not another source of creativity and that probably the opposite is true, i.e. the addiction will destroy creativity. I think that often the reason for artists or otherwise famous people to fall into an addiction is the stress and pressure they are under in their lifes. I agree with the point about the link between mental instability and creativity. What I find interesting is that I read somewhere else that creative activities are also used in the treatment of mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

    Comment by Andreas | June 23, 2012

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