Alcohol and Creativity

There is a myth of the alcoholic artist (Ernest Hemingway for example) whose creativity is boosted by ingesting copious quantities of alcohol to free the muse.

This page provides information for and against alcohol as an aid to creativity.

Notes based on Tony Buzan's Book of Genius published by Random House 1994 A useful way to look at this drug is to take the perspective of a Martian, examining the effects of varying amounts of this particular liquid on the brain, the nervous system and muscular system of the inhabitants of the Earth, Prolonged use causes massive memory loss, disintegration of vital organs, vocabulary and language impairment, disintegration of the muscular system, eventual loss of brain cells, loss of balance and coordination, and a reduced life expectancy.

On the up-side for those people who enjoy drinking, studies have shown that moderate drinking, expecially when the drink is taken with food, combined with good exercise, can relax the mind and body, and may even in some instances by helpful to the cardiovascular system. Some studies show that those who drink in moderation have an additional two years expectancy. As with the advice on diet, it is essential to 'listen' to your body's real needs.

How to Boost Your Brain Power" by Roger Yepsen

Published by Rodale Press, (c) 1987

From pages 92 - 97 Alcohol is a gifted chemical. Depending on how much is consumed, it can act as a food, a drug or a poison.

For some authors and artists, alcohol seems to coax the muse out of hiding. Writer E. White once mentioned in a letter to a friend that a single dry martini could effectively dislodge his occasional writer's block.

How is it that alcohol may help people stymied by a blank canvas or a sheet of typing paper. The answer may be in this drug's special ability to simultaneously lower anxiety and increase arousal:

It might seem that if a little nip of alcohol helps, then a few more drinks would really open the floodgates of creative energy. But in fact, these effects are temporary, and more does not mean better. After an initial period of stimulation, the brain's cells become less active, and the brief alcohol/sugar energy boost is followed by the inevitable onset of Fatigue.

As for alcohol's power as a creativity drug, its reputation is largely a Myth. It is not safe to assume that a glass of Pernod, for example, will confer upon you the creative spark of the young Hemingway who sipped this yellow-green liquor as he wrote in the cafes of Paris. And it is downright dangerous to infer than heavy drinking is a key to artistic success, despite our many cultural heroes for whom alcohol abuse was a central and at times colourful part of life.

The trick of staying on alcohol's friendly side is to drink just enough and no more. Many of us feel pressured to drink in certain situations: Drinking is not only socially accepted, but at parties and conventions and business luncheons, its use may be expected. The challenge here is to know yourself - your tolerance, and your personal reactions to alcohol as a food, drug and poison.

Alcohol is a neurotoxic agent at lower doses than was previously recognised, and does in fact destroy brain cells. Even light to moderate drinking may impair such high-order cognitive processes as abstracting, adaptive ability, concept formation, and learning ability.

Memory suffers, too, and drinking interferes with the brain's ability to process new information and commit it to memory.

Alcohol as a block to creativity

Comments by Charles Cave

Week 10 of the "Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron discusses the various blocks to creativity. One of them is ALCOHOL -- in fact, Julia Cameron described her torments with drinking and how she completely quit.

I have always enjoyed fine wines, cold beer and cocktails, but over the last few months I have given up alcohol with the exception of a very occasional drink for special events. My main reason for doing so is to get more things done without being fatigued by drinking and the subsequent headaches. Too many times, I have lost complete evenings to creative endeavours because of drinking wine.

I find non-drinking to be a very spiritual thing, in line with the Artist's Way, and my mind remains clearer and most receptive to life. Instead of alcohol, I drink water, or fruit juice.

Here is what I suggest you try:

If you are in the habit of having a drink when you get home from work, or with dinner, then have a glass of water instead. Save your drinks for the weekend only. After a few weeks of this regime, you will discover the benefits of a lucid mind and greater achievments. You may also find that you don't want those drinks on the weekend.

Don't get me wrong...I'm not a teetotaller or preaching the evils of alcohol..I'm merely suggesting an experiment to improve your thinking and creativity.

I'm writing this with a cup of coffee beside me, so my next experiment (more difficult!) is cutting down the caffeine intake. Hmmm, I've tried it before and it is difficult. Any suggestions? Substituting water doesn't work for me.

I'd be interested to hear your comments on the pros and cons of alcohol for creativity. Send me email, and I can incorporate the information into this page.
Last updated: 1st October 1996

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