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Thread: What Drives so many Writers to Drink?

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    Seasider
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    What Drives so many Writers to Drink?

    I read a review today of a book by Olivia Laing which discusses six great American writers; Tennessee Williams, Fitzgerald,Hemingway, Cheever, Carver and Berryman all of whom battled with alcohol addiction.
    . She could have included Faulkner, Highsmith and Chandler if she had wanted to. She suggests that all these writers were tormented by a sense of inadequacy and self hate. And most were ambivalent or at least conflicted about their sexuality. Is it just that the writers she chose were alcoholics or is there something about a life in writing....loneliness, rejection, bad reviews etc that brings it on?

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    Registered User hannah_arendt's Avatar
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    Writers are humans so they have the same reasons to start drinking or taking drugs. Possibgly in many cases they cannot cope with for instance loneliness, being rejected or they don`t feel happy.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Almost all the major poets of Chinese history were, at least portrayed in their writing, intense alcoholics. It is a cultural thing mixed with a sense that all humans are slaves to addiction, and writers are no exception. We like to think of the writer as moral or at least culturally appropriate in demeanor - such was the intention during the 18th century, but the truth is artists of all kind are human, and we cannot link their personal conduct with the worth of their work - Luckily in English we do not have a cult of morality that China seems to hold for its artists, treating them as cultural exemplars when they were mostly alcoholic womanizing hedonists, as quick to bind their granddaughter's feet as they were to go out and purchase a girl with similarly bound feet.

    We should not think of artists as heroes, but rather as creators. We should also not consider an artist's morality, or social virtue, or personality in our evaluation of artwork, which need be judged on its own inherent merits.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Does a higher percentage of writers drink than the general population. I suspect that writers drink abbout the same as plumbers, mechanics, stock brokers, teachers, and any other profession; although there may be niches of criminal behavior in which there is more drinking than in other professions.

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    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    There does seem to be a connection, however, between depression and creativity. These are some highlights from "The Creative Brain" by Nancy C. Andreasen (which I haven't read , btw):

    2) Creative people have characteristics that make them more vulnerable

    According to Andreasen, our openness to new experiences, tolerance for ambiguity, and the way we approach life enables us to perceive things in a fresh and novel way. Less creative types “quickly respond to situations based on what they have been told by people in authority”, while creatives live in a more fluid and nebulous (read: incredibly stressful) world.

    “Such traits can lead to feelings of depression or social alienation,” writes Andreasen. They sure can.

    Luckily, though creatives experience higher rates of mood disorders than the general population, the extremes of highs and lows tend to be brief, balanced by long periods of normal affect, or euthymia. During these respite periods, creatives frequently reflect upon and draw from memories and experiences of their darker times to create their best art.

    3) “A highly original person may seem odd or strange to others.”

    According to Andreasen, the creative person "may have to confront criticism or rejection for being too questioning, or too unconventional."

    "Too much openness means living on the edge. Sometimes the person may drop over the edge..."

    If being creative means being odd, I would far rather be odd than be normal (proof being the fact that I do things like interviewing strangers at birthday parties if they make the gross error of telling me something really cool). If you’re a little weird too, apparently we’re not alone! Such a relief.

    4) Creative brains have difficulty “gating” sensory input.

    As mentioned above, creatives are at higher risk for mental illness (I can vouch for that personally) and according to Andreasen it at least partially stems from “a problem with filtering or gating the many stimuli that flow into the brain.” For this reason some writers, myself included, organize their lives in order to be isolated from human contact for long blocks of time.


    Maybe some of that social isolation and sensitivity to stress lead to alcoholism. Or debauchery. I suppose it could go either way.

    I found it here:
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/...creative-brain
    "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its' own reason for existing." ~ Albert Einstein
    "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Bonzai
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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Williams alcoholism probably derived in part from the loss of his sister, who developed schizophrenia and became an invalid after she was lobotomized. He was reputably very close to her and his drug and alcohol abuse started after she became ill. Then there is the fact that being pretty much an out homosexual from the 40s to the 60s was not tons of fun.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    In fact, writers are not high on the list of professions in which people drink heavily.
    Writers aren't even on the top ten list1. 1
    http://www.businessinsider.com/most-...s-2011-10?op=1

    Occupation and Alcoholism: Cause or Effect? A Controlled Study of Recruits to the Drink Trade
    http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs...ournalCode=sum

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_occup...lcoholism_rate

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeterL View Post
    In fact, writers are not high on the list of professions in which people drink heavily.
    Writers aren't even on the top ten list1. 1
    http://www.businessinsider.com/most-...s-2011-10?op=1

    Occupation and Alcoholism: Cause or Effect? A Controlled Study of Recruits to the Drink Trade
    http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs...ournalCode=sum

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_occup...lcoholism_rate
    Good grief! Shoe machine operators are twice as likely as normal to die from alcoholism? Where do they get these stats? How many shoe machine operators were studied? Were they all drinking champagne from glass slippers?

    Roofers makes sense, not because roofers are more likely to drink than anyone else, but because they are more likely to careen off high rooftops if they are drunk.

    Also, why do 43 alcohol related deaths out of 2921 deaths for shoe machine operators rank higher than 121 alcohol-related deaths out of 3173 deaths for dry wall installers? I can only assume that whoever did this study was bombed.

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    Alea iacta est. mortalterror's Avatar
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    What drives so many ordinary people to drink? Writers are people after all and victim to the same temptations and pitfalls as the rest of us. There does seem to be a bit more of that in the lifestyle though, so it may be partly a bohemian thing, the way that so many musicians or comedians get hooked on drugs. I believe I've heard that a great number of models do coke and heroin too. Some vices are just part of a culture and come with the job. The drug of choice is probably a matter of fashion and timing since in Coleridge's day it appears to be opium; but I'm sure there is probably a job or lifestyle where the culturally acceptable thing to do is to smoke reefer. Ravers are really into mdma or ecstasy right now, and certain hippy types seem more fond of psychedelic hallucinogens like LSD, mushrooms, or DMT. I guess what I'm saying is that it's cultural and depends on who you hang out with.
    "So-Crates: The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing." "That's us, dude!"- Bill and Ted
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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mortalterror View Post
    What drives so many ordinary people to drink? Writers are people after all and victim to the same temptations and pitfalls as the rest of us. There does seem to be a bit more of that in the lifestyle though, so it may be partly a bohemian thing, the way that so many musicians or comedians get hooked on drugs. I believe I've heard that a great number of models do coke and heroin too. Some vices are just part of a culture and come with the job. The drug of choice is probably a matter of fashion and timing since in Coleridge's day it appears to be opium; but I'm sure there is probably a job or lifestyle where the culturally acceptable thing to do is to smoke reefer. Ravers are really into mdma or ecstasy right now, and certain hippy types seem more fond of psychedelic hallucinogens like LSD, mushrooms, or DMT. I guess what I'm saying is that it's cultural and depends on who you hang out with.
    Those lifestyles are of a time, and part of a broader culture. Not every prostitute frequenting alcoholic in 19th century Paris was a famous writer. Not every alcoholic shell-shocked retired soldier was a Hemingway.

    Rock and drugs went hand in hand, culturally, as a life-style, the same way Reggae and marijuana are closely linked. These are temporal cultures, not applicable as something determined by their artistic creativity, but by the context in which they grew up.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Good grief! Shoe machine operators are twice as likely as normal to die from alcoholism? Where do they get these stats? How many shoe machine operators were studied? Were they all drinking champagne from glass slippers?
    Have ever seen shoe machine operators at work? It is almost as interesting as watching paint dry, but they can make decent money.

    Roofers makes sense, not because roofers are more likely to drink than anyone else, but because they are more likely to careen off high rooftops if they are drunk.
    If they drink after work, then that it not an issue.

    Also, why do 43 alcohol related deaths out of 2921 deaths for shoe machine operators rank higher than 121 alcohol-related deaths out of 3173 deaths for dry wall installers? I can only assume that whoever did this study was bombed.
    There wasn't much on methodology. The item that you mentioned might be valid, butthere's no way to tell.

    One issue that didn't seem to be addressed was whether people become alcoholics as a result of a profession, or if alcoholics are more likely to select certain professions.

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    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    who knows may be what they write depresses them and so they drink.
    writing should be a hobby alight hearted affair less gruesome and more fun thoughts instead which should bounce the person rather then drive them to despair.
    the content of so many stories are so depressing that I am not surprised drinking one passion for the said writer to forget it all I guess.
    it may never try
    but when it does it sigh
    it is just that
    good
    it fly

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    TobeFrank Paulclem's Avatar
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    http://www.theguardian.com/books/201...ct?INTCMP=SRCH

    I read this interesting article in the Guardian about six US writers who were alcoholic.

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    Original Poster Buh4Bee's Avatar
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    In the article, Williams stated this:
    American writers nearly all have problems with alcohol because there's a great deal of tension involved in writing, you know that. And it's all right up to a certain age, and then you begin to need a little nervous support that you get from drinking."

    I think writing is a very taxing and emotionally strenuous process and drinking helps to numb some of the intense pain writing honestly causes.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buh4Bee View Post
    In the article, Williams stated this:
    American writers nearly all have problems with alcohol because there's a great deal of tension involved in writing, you know that. And it's all right up to a certain age, and then you begin to need a little nervous support that you get from drinking."

    I think writing is a very taxing and emotionally strenuous process and drinking helps to numb some of the intense pain writing honestly causes.
    I guess that plumbers, fishermen, etc. must have a bit more taxing and emotionally strenuous work.

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