Is alcohol use a help or a hindrance for creativity? And, conversely, what effect does creative activity have on alcohol use?
In order to answer these questions, relevant information was obtained from the biographies of 34 well known, heavy drinking, 20th century writers,
artists or composers/performers.
Analysis of this information yielded a number of interesting findings. Alcohol use proved detrimental to productivity in over 75% of the sample, especially in
the latter phases of their drinking careers. However, it appeared to provide direct benefit for about 9% of the sample, indirect benefit for 50% and no appreciable
effect for 40% at different times in their lives. Creative activity, conversely, can also affect drinking behavior, leading, for instance, to increased alcohol
consumption in over 30% of the sample.
Because of the complexities of this relationship, no simplistic conclusions are possible.
…Previous studies on the incidence of alcoholism in creative individuals offer little help. For example, Ellis2 reports no alcoholism in a sampling
of over 1,000 British ‘geniuses’. Juda3 reports rates of 2.7% and 0.6%, respectively, in a sampling of pre-World War I, German ‘artists’ and 181
‘scientists’. But Andreasen,4 using strict diagnostic criteria, reports a rate of 30% in a sample of American writers (n = 30) compared to 7%
in controls (n = 30). From this range of findings, in entirely different samples, it is difficult to determine the importance of alcohol in the creative
process, especially when most of the individuals evaluated manage to be productive and creative without any obvious dependence on alcohol…The only study, to my
knowledge, specifically devoted to the effects of actual drinking habits on productivity in creative individuals—in this case, artists—was conducted more than 40
years ago by Roe,8 but the results are largely anecdotal in nature. All of the established artists interviewed drank, but most avoided drinking while
painting. All but one of 17 artists regarded the short-term effects of alcohol as deleterious to their work and none used alcohol to overcome technical
difficulties. The general sentiment was that alcohol provided the freedom for painting but impaired the discipline. Interestingly enough, alcohol consumption also
appeared to play a role in artistic style. All of the moderate drinkers, who also were the most well adjusted, were realistic painters. The steady social drinkers
had a wide range of styles. And the excessive drinkers showed greater shifts in their style of painting.