On Substance Abuse and Writing

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By Tim Hillebrant


Besides being writers, what do Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, Earnest Hemmingway, and Dorothy Parker have in common?  They all were also writers known for substance abuse.


Some might claim that using a substance of one kind or another, be it alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, or an opiate helps their writing by expanding their minds and letting imagination go free.  The mantra I’ve often heard is all things in moderation.  But does it really help?  At what point does the writing become nothing more than an excuse to use?

What do you think? 

Does writing under the influence of one thing or another help?

Does it have any place at all in writing, really?

Some member opinions-

Rachel Hofton:    My writing if under the influence of alcohol usually doesn’t change from my normal writing. Given I haven’t even been tipsy in years I don’t know what my writing is like after a lot if alcohol. Never done drugs so no idea. I’ve had some medications where my writings ended up making no sense. So I see no benefit what so ever from writing under the influence of anything.

Matthew Gomez:   Raging alcoholic that Ernest Hemingway might have been, he was a big proponent of writing sober (if hungover). Writing for him was work, and he believed in working sober.

That said, I’ve been known to write while partaking of a pint of Guinness or a dram of whisky. Not to the point of total inebriation, mind, but enough to lubricate the wheels. It also helps reduce inhibitions, which is useful for certain kinds of writing.

Then of course there are what I tend to think of as the Holy Grail of drugs for writers: caffeine. Yes, yes, not quite to the same level as the others you’ve mentioned, but it bears at least passing mention, doesn’t it?

Mary Tejeda:  Great topic and intro Tim! ;) I read somewhere that King was drinking heavily when he wrote Cujo and does not remember writing it. Most of the best writers in history suffered from depression, being bi-polar and the list goes on. I think they were self medicating to be able to focus and deal with their issues. I don’t think that substance abuse has a place in writing, however, I don’t think there is a clear cut solution when it comes to the chemical imbalances of the writer. I choose coffee to help me get going. :) But, I think many of these writers were experimenting with substances when today they would have been taking prescription drugs to to help them deal with their emotional problems.


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