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Alcohol, drugs can stimulate artistic creativity

The idea that alcohol and drugs can stimulate writers, musicians and others to create great works of art is a "dangerous myth" because they can actually stifle creativity, says a psychiatrist.

Iain Smith, consultant in addiction psychiatry at Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow, said that while many artists and writers were known for their use of intoxicating substances, most produced their greatest work when they were sober."

Smith said: "The reason that 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, emotional people, and the use of these substances to deal with their emotions is more likely to happen."

He added that drugs and alcohol were social substances and many creative people, such as Hemingway and French artist Edgar Degas, spent a lot of time in Parisian cafes exchanging ideas and imbibing large quantities of absinthe and other types of alcohol.

Smith said that American writer Tennessee Williams was addicted to alcohol. Poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats favoured opiates, as did writers Marcel Proust and Edgar Allan Poe. Vincent van Gogh drank absinthe.

American writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene O'Neill and William Faulkner were all recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature — and all were alcoholics.

Smith said that American writer Hunter S. Thompson once wrote "I'd hate to advocate drugs, alcohol or insanity to anyone - but they've always worked for me".

Baudelaire also urged fellow poets "to be drunk always". But from reviewing the evidence, Smith claims that many of these artists were most productive during times of sobriety.

He said: "The idea that drugs and alcohol give artists unique insights and powerful experiences is an illusion. When you try and capture the experiences (triggered by drugs or alcohol), they are often nonsense."

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