It has occurred to me over the years (and by too much ‘VH1 inside the music’) that all of the best rock and roll acts used and, more specifically, abused drugs.
Can drugs increase creativity? If not, why are/were so many musical artists users and abusers? It seems to be a very prevalent issue.
It seems that musicians, at the peak of their use, are musically at their best. And then the drugs really get to them, and their popularity fades when they’ve given up the drugs.
Also, it might even carry over to literature and other forms of art too, but I haven’t investigated yet.
I know that drug abuse can have serious consequences, and I’m not attempting to glorify them (I think muscians have done that) but what could explain this?

You’ve implied a causal relationship where there is only anecdotal evidence for a correlation at best.

If you’re a dumbass and do drugs, you’ll be a stoned dumbass. You won’t write Layla or Ode to Joy.

It’s more likely that the artists featured on VH1 simply live in a culture where drugs available. The simple observation that there are musicians who do drugs isn’t enough evidence to draw much of any conclusion from.

Come at it from another direction:

People who are highly creative are more likely to abuse drugs.

I actually find this argument more persuasive than drugs making people highly creative.

For one reason or another a great deal of the world’s best art came from what be described as ‘tortured’ souls. Janic Joplin, Jim Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Van Gogh, Beethoven, Mozart, etc…

I’m not saying being a bit crazy is a prerequisite for good art but it sure seems to help in many cases.

Someone once said, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity.” Maybe there’s some truth to that.

First off, VH-1 isn’t really interested in doing a show about an artist who lived a clean life, had a happy marriage, raised a family and continues to be successful artistically and financially. Hell, I wouldn’t even be interested in watching something like that.

Creativity is the ability to look at something sideways and see something that other people don’t see, and then make them see it, too. Drugs may be able to give you a brief insight like that, but they don’t give you the ability to express what that insight is. No good song was ever built on “Oh wow! Have you ever like really looked at your hand, man!”

Creative people may or may not use drugs, but drugs don’t make people creative.

I understand all the words, they just don’t make sense together like that.

There is also the idea that the forces within the truly great musicians/artists that make them so wonderful (creativity, the need to push boundaries, exploration within their medium, etc.) lead them to choose to experiment with drugs. Wanting to achieve a ‘higher state of conciousness’ can be applied to both art and drug use. The two can therefore go hand-in-hand for some, while in others one can over-ride the other. I am sure whole debates on drug use affecting performance could continue for decades, but there are some works of art that one could point to drug use as influencing, both positively and negatively. The only difference between the two would be that the positive ones get the attention, the negative ones do not (or not as much). Bob Marley was definitely influenced positively by pot- he is famous for it. And your comment about burning out, or having the drugs affect negatively, is also true and applicable to many post-famous albums/art.
Basically I would say that only in a few cases would drugs be the contributing factor for someones greatness. Hendrix was not great because he did heroin, he was great because he ate, drank, slept, and even went to the toilet with his guitar. But what drove him to greatness was found all too easily rewarded by drugs.
There could also be an argument that drugs were something that an artist had to push through to survive. The Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc. exist years after their drug stage. They have spoken against drug use, but one wonders whether or not they had to do them and move beyond them to get where they are- again, a testing of the boundaries.

On the other hand, it may be that drugs improve creativity. There’s more evidence for this than the latter, despite all of the anti-drug posts.

Drugs lower inhibitions and distort reality. That may very well lead to a creative outflow in some people. That may not be a good reason to do drugs, but there is an awful lot of observable evidence which suggests that it does work in some people.

From a more personal perspective, Drugs do not equal creativity.
Drugs equal focus.

Tunnel vision, in a way. Outside distractions and annoyances are more easily ignored, allowing almost obsessive application to a project. When you’re frothing at the mouth to make it ‘perfect,’ the odds are better that it WILL end up that way.

You might know this, but several weeks ago, it was reported in the New York Time (among other papers)that many networks (including VH-1) admitted to participating in a White House sponsored anti-drug program: the networks were given financial perks in exchange for including anti-drug abuse messages in their programming. The reason you see so many references to drug abuse on VH-1 Behind The Music is because the networks get tax exemptions for this programming, and not for their biographies about musicians who’d led relatively clean & sober lives. (Personally, I suspect in a number of the vh1 profiles, the drug abuse is inflated just to satisfy White House guidelines.) thus, Behind the Music is little more than an anti-drug propoganda show to begin with.

Being a fairly creative person who has done a fair amount of drugs, I have often wondered about this myself. I don’t think that drugs make you more creative. I think drugs improve your mood and lower your inhibitions, thereby allowing the creativity you’ve already got to get past those pesky internal censors we all acquired in grade school.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing. I have also observed (and personally discovered) that this doesn’t work forever. One eventually moves from the search for aesthetic expereince to the search for anesthetic experience, and then your creativity suffers greatly.

I think it is interesting that so many creative people of the past have displayed symptoms of bipolar disorder or chronic depression. Scientific American had a fine article on this some time ago, but it is unfortunately not available online. Their conclusions are fairly plain, though: people in “creative” lines of work do display a higher than normal incidence of mood disorders.

The apparent mood disorder / creativity connection and the apparent drug abuse / creativity connection seems to be similar. After all, most of my favorite drugs are mood altering drugs. But this leads to more questions to which I don’t know where to begin searching for answers:

*Are people who experience mood disorders more prone to substance abuse?


  • Do people who regularly abuse drugs take on the symptoms of those who display mood disorders, or does drug abuse cause mood disorders?

  • If chronic mood disorders and rampant drug abuse do, in fact, stimulate creativity, how come I’m not a rock star, huh?

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