Does great writing come from Addiction?

Bellagio In The Desert Residential Treatment Center


Did you know that there are more than 50 famous professional writers with addiction throughout history? Some recovered and continued their careers, although it’s typically decades later. Others were less fortunate and have fallen victim to the disease, losing their lives in the process. The sad part is that most of these cases were due to a lack of understanding and awareness of the importance of mental health. 

According to the Help Guide, at least 50% of substance abuse cases are due to the user having a severe mental disorder. With 37% of those abusing alcohol and 53% of those abusing drugs being diagnosed with a mental health illness as well. In many cases, professional writers are often more vulnerable to addiction due to the nature of their profession and the popular myth that great art requires substance abuse.

With hopes of decreasing the number of professional writers impacted by substance abuse, Bellagio In The Desert Residential Treatment Center has gathered the most common substance abuse issues among professional writers and addiction treatment options.

Substance Abuse Issues Among Professional Writers

The stress that comes with being a writer can sometimes be overwhelming. Professionally writing often requires isolation from those around you, stress due to timelines, and even fear of vulnerability in their art.

Substance abuse may allow some to ‘feel’ like they can loosen up and go to deeper depths in their writing, especially at a young age. According to a 2014 study, those who are introduced to substance abuse in adolescents are nearly six times more likely to experience drug dependence or abuse. 

A professional writer can be diagnosed with several types of substance use disorders. However, the most common in the writing profession include:

Diagnosing Professional Writers With a Substance Abuse Disorder

According to Mental Health America, the following criteria (DSM-5) are used for diagnosing a substance use disorder:

  • Increasing tolerance: Alteration of the body s responsiveness to alcohol or a drug such that higher doses are required to produce the same effect achieved during initial use.
  • Withdrawal symptoms (i.e., negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, or depression, as well as physical effects such as nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, cramping, etc.).
  • Using in large amounts or for longer than intended.
  • Wanting to cut down or stop using, but not succeeding.
  • Craving
  • Inability to manage commitments due to use.
  • Continuing use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
  • Giving up important activities because of use.
  • Continuing to use, even when it puts you in danger.
  • Continuing to use, even when physical or psychological problems may be made worse by use.

If fewer than two of these criteria are relevant to a professional writer, the DSM-5 does not recognize their condition as a disorder. However, it’s considered a mild disorder if the writer can relate to two or three. Four or five are recognized as a moderate disorders, while six or more are considered ‘severe.’

Dispelling The Myth That Great Art Comes From Addiction

With centuries of great authors to support it, the myth that substance abuse is a prerequisite for great art and writing was dangerously close to being believed by many. Fortunately, more support and awareness for mental health in the 20th century has ended that concept. 

In fact, award-winning writer Stephen King battled an addiction to alcohol and drugs throughout most of his career. In his tell-all memoir On Writing, he admitted, “By 1985, I had added drug addiction to my alcohol problem, yet I continued to function, as a good many substance abusers do.” And his writing often conveyed it, metaphorically representing his addiction battle through works like The Shining, Misery, and even The Tommyknockers.  

“The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time,” King continued in his memoir. “The four twentieth-century writers whose work is most responsible for it are probably [Ernest] Hemingway, [F. Scott] Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and the poet Dylan Thomas.”

Despite there being some incredibly talented writers with addiction in history, the idea that their talent wouldn’t have been as scholarly if they weren’t an addict is preposterous. A good example that says otherwise is none other than King himself. After more than 30 years of sobriety, King has published more than 100 books (and counting) and sold more than 350 million copies. 

The key is for family and friends to step in and host an intervention to make the writer see and confront the problem. For King, this was his wife and children. For any other professional writer, it could be anyone meaningful around them, from a lover and family members to close friends or even co-workers.

We Accept Most Major Insurance

Group 26
Group 25

Professional Writers With an Addiction: Don't Give Up Until They Get The Help They Need

There are many great addiction treatment options for professional writers to consider when they’re ready for recovery. For instance, Bellagio In The Desert offers:

  • Detox — the withdrawal process is an integral part of treatment. It can be the ‘make-it-or-break-it’ for many. Through emotional and psychological support, the first stage of recovery can be significantly more successful. 
  • Residential (customized treatments) — successful addiction treatment for professional writers often look different from person to person. That’s why Bellagio In The Desert offers an array of residential programs such as yoga, meditation, gardening, nutrition, music, spirituality, and more. 
  • Personalized Therapy — a good mixture of therapies such as individual, group, art, and pet therapy can make a significant difference in the success rate of addiction treatment.

According to the National Institute on Drube Abuse, most substance abusers who complete their addiction treatment stop using drugs and “improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.” For professional writers suffering from substance abuse and their families, this is the life-changing news they need to thrive in their careers while also living a safe, healthy lifestyle.