Being plagued by an addiction is usually associated with misery and sadness. In the creative arts though an affliction is often the spark that fuels authors to create the marvelous pieces of work we are familiar with. The reasons for addiction differ from one person to the next, but for past authors though it seemed to be a way for them to quieten the world surrounding them and enabled them a focus. Many writers have turned their addictive plight into a way to engage an area of their brain that otherwise, in their opinion, lay there dormant. It is as though writers believed each different addiction held a particular key to unlock a differing world and the only way to gain access to this new realm was to indulge in the substance to the extreme.

Some Liquid Encouragement

‘‘The euphoria of alcohol and the euphoria of metaphor’’

This single segment of speech by John Cheever sums up the rampant alcohol abuse that has been prevalent in many fantastic authors. The list of those authors who have become alcoholics during their writing careers is disturbingly long. As Tennessee Williams remarked ‘‘writers nearly all have problems with alcohol.’’ If you heard of someone being driven to drink it often related to some sort of personal tragedy for which the alcoholic believed he / she could drown his / her sorrows in alcohol. For writers though it seemed to be a way of transferring themselves from their worldly body into something all together more transcendent.

With the guiding hand of alcohol authors felt that they could become a being that has a certain perception of the world unknown to the average man or woman. Ernest Hemmingway believed ‘‘a man does not [truly] exist until he is drunk’’. When the average person gets drunk they stumble in and out of bars not really making an impact but writers believed that their addiction to the powerful liquid of alcohol could lift them to new heights. For this reason alcohol was seen as a staple choice to accompany any writer and their pen. Certain writers, like Stephen King, were offered help and interventions for their alcohol abuse and found ways to continue to produce high quality works without reliance upon it. Others were not so lucky. Dylan Thomas is well known for his written prose but, sadly, also for an early death. The ‘‘euphoria’’ of his written word may live on for readers but the ‘‘euphoria’’ he found at a bottom of a bottle meant his light went out too early. The alcohol may have fueled his writing and helped him produce wondrous pieces but it also denied him, and society, the potential of a writer at his peak.

Drugs: Awakening a Vision

‘‘Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t handle drugs’’

Much like with alcoholism authors used the power of drugs as a method of escapism from the closed reality of their lives. The chemical compounds came in a variety of differing forms from opium, LSD, heroin and cocaine. Along with alcoholism these drugs clearly carried an unlocking technique for some writers, enabling them to uncover areas of thought that had escaped them whilst sober. This, as Allen Ginsberg called it, ‘‘exalted state of mind’’ provided endless works of both fiction and fact from a variety of authors, the majority of which are still loved today.

This new, apparently heightened state of mind and the glorification of drugs doesn’t come without costs. Many have read Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The white substance mentioned in this novel can perhaps be viewed as a thinly veiled reference to the drug culture amongst writers. Stevenson himself admitted to drugs fuelling his power to write and whilst certain authors may view this increase in work as positive it certainly was not. Instead drugs unleashed a lot of authors inner Hyde and whereas their literary works were sublime their true lives became broken. Take, for instance, David Foster Wallace (a writer of one of Time magazine’s 100 best English Language novels) who, much like Dylan Thomas, died at the age of 46 and was known as much for his addiction to anti-depressants as he was for his writing.

Something a Little Sweeter

‘‘Ideas begin to move ... smiles arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.’’

This article has talked about the dark plague of addiction with which many authors have suffered. There is one substance, sometimes referred to as a drug in itself, that nearly all authors use and it is one that they would perhaps recommend to everyone – caffeine. Caffeine in the form of a dark espresso or a very British mug of steaming tea can be the energy any author needs to power through a piece of writing. Throughout this article the dark side of writers abusing substances has been delved into. It is best to leave not with a sour taste in the mouth but with something a little sweeter. A type of substance, that in the poetic phrasing of Benjamin Franklin, only ‘‘excites cheerfulness without intoxication ... [as it] is never followed by sadness, languor or debility’’ it is only followed by the flow of the pen and the beauty of words on the page.

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