Why Addiction Is Not a Muse

Why Addiction Is Not a Muse

Art, music, writing and other creative pursuits take a lot of work and also a lot of inspiration. Sometimes enormous efforts yield disappointing results, while at other times great ideas flow effortlessly. This paradox has led creative people to speculate, with varying degrees of seriousness, about their artistic muse with the power to bestow or withhold great ideas.

Addiction is sometimes mistaken for a creative muse. Personal experiences and the well-known addictions in many famous artists’ lives may appear to support this mistaken idea. In reality, addiction takes away much more from the creative life than it gives.

Artistic Role Models

People who want to pursue creative endeavors may not have a pathway clearly marked out for them to follow. They may have to rely upon the lives of artists they admire to guide them toward success.

Examples of successful artists who were also addicts are common. But it is not logical to see an individual’s creativity and addiction manifested together and conclude that one is causing the other. There are many factors, often much less visible, which contribute to both creativity and addiction. There may be no evidence in an album’s liner notes of the long hours a musician spent practicing. News of his drug overdose or admission to rehabilitation, by contrast, might be widely reported. Likewise, the real factors that may have contributed to the development of an artist’s substance abuse, such as common mental health issues, often remain private.

Misunderstood Experiences

Early personal experiences with drugs and alcohol can provide anecdotal, but persuasive, evidence that addiction is a muse. Many drugs, for instance, lower social inhibitions. Shy or anxious people not accustomed to performing in front of an audience may credit a drug with helping them take to the stage for the first time. Even in private, reduced inhibition can slow down the dismissal of ideas and let a brainstorming session roll forward to great discoveries.

Drugs also change people’s perceptions in ways that may feel helpful. Fine details of the timbre of an instrument or the texture of paint can suddenly hold the attention of a person high on drugs.

Of course, there are other ways to overcome stage fright or sharpen the senses that don’t require drugs. And even when an individual uses drugs, it is still his own creativity and vision that comes through.

Regardless of what people actually achieve while using drugs, the effects of the drugs can make the work feel like it is being done in a fit of inspiration. There is a kind of natural high associated with solving problems and creating things. Just like eating and exercising, problem solving is a task necessary for survival that our brains reward with feelings of pleasure. Drugs can’t contribute much to the actual creative process, but because they stimulate those systems of pleasure they can make it feel like great things are being accomplished.

Addiction’s Damage to Creativity

Creative achievement is best supported by simple practices that addiction actually counteracts. These include:

  • Time spent working on and practicing one’s craft
  • Social support
  • Mental health

Addiction diverts personal resources of every kind. The energy left over to fuel creative pursuits diminishes as the addiction progresses. Overcoming addiction, on the other hand, makes more room for creativity. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call our 24 hour toll-free helpline to learn about options for treatment.