Creativity, drug use and mental health concerns are often connected and, unfortunately, often romanticized. Idealizing artistic lives of inner turmoil and addiction leads some to believe drug use is a way to access creativity or inspiration while the truth is just the opposite. Drug use and addiction limit a person’s productivity and creativity, and artists that struggle with addiction become successful despite this serious concern, not because of it.
One reason for the close relationship between creativity and addiction is the close relationship between creativity and mental health concerns. Studies at the Karolinska Institute found that “Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse,” and, “dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder” (BBCNews, “Creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness,’” October 2012). While many famous authors and musicians have struggled with bipolar disorder and other mental health concerns, the stories are more than anecdotal.
Science shows that creative individuals have brains that function differently from those of the public at large, as Scientific American shares, “the same structure that is underdeveloped in the brains of people with schizophrenia (connections to the prefrontal cortex) are less well organized in people who score high on psychological tests of creativity” (“Creativity, Madness and Drugs,” November 2013). As with all states of mental and physical health, creativity has its roots in biological, social and environmental functions, yet some individuals may attempt to gain control over their mental health and creativity through drug abuse.
Individuals who want to pursue creative professions or feel the need to further their creativity may be tempted to force the mental health states that lead to higher creative output, and they may seek to do so through drug use. Drugs may appear to allow individuals to reach new levels of consciousness or creativity, but the consequences of use are dire. The perceived benefits will quickly end, as tolerance and addiction develop.
Scientific American explains the effects of continued drug use: “Eventually the brain’s reward system is shot. The addict now takes the drug not to achieve pleasure, but rather to avoid activating the brain’s pain and stress circuitry that are stimulated when the drug is withheld.” Drug use is no longer a “pleasurable” activity, and it is far from fueling creative mindsets. It becomes a compulsive action that is accompanied by escalating negative consequences.
Many famous musicians, artists and actors have died as a result of drug abuse or overdose, cutting short creative careers and leaving the world to wonder just how much more these individuals could have created, if they had not succumbed to drug use and addiction. You can access creativity, express yourself and share your artistic contribution with the world, but you cannot do so if you are distracted and controlled by your drug use. Break free from addiction, and see how much you can accomplish.