Drunk writers were better sober, says psychiatrist

The idea that drugs and alcohol can fuel creativity is a myth, it was claimed yesterday.

While many artists and writers were famous for substance abuse, most produced their greatest works while not intoxicated, according to the psychiatrist Dr Iain Smith. In fact alcohol and drugs were more likely to stifle creativity, he claimed.

Dr Smith, an addiction expert from Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow, said: "The reason why this myth is so powerful is the allure of the substances, and the fact that many artists need drugs to cope with their emotions. Artists are, in general, more emotional people."

The American writers Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway were addicted to alcohol, said Dr Smith, speaking at a Royal College of Psychiatrists meeting in Edinburgh. The poets Coleridge and Keats took opiates, as did the writers Proust and Edgar Allan Poe, while the painter Vincent van Gogh drank the potent spirit absinthe, he added.

The American writers F Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene O'Neill and William Faulkner all received the Nobel Prize for Literature and all were alcoholics, said Dr Smith.

"The idea that drugs and alcohol give artists unique insights and powerful experiences is an illusion," he said. "When you try and capture the experiences [triggered by drugs or alcohol] they are often nonsense. These drugs often wipe your memory, so it's hard to remember how you were in that state of mind."

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