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Do You Need Drugs or Alcohol to be Creative?

Creative people often feel conflicted about getting treatment for addiction. On one hand, they know their addiction is making life miserable, but on the other, they see drugs and alcohol as part of their creative process. They’re afraid that if they give up the drugs and alcohol, they won’t be able to work, or their work won’t be as good. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, if creative output is a big part of your life, it’s natural to be wary of anything that might disrupt it. Fortunately, you don’t need drugs or alcohol to be creative, and they might actually be an impediment.

People early in recovery sometimes feel they can no longer work, that the creative spark is gone. What they are more likely feeling is post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. This is a protracted feeling of depression or numbness, or sometimes unpredictable emotional swings. This isn’t a loss of creativity; it’s a common experience of people getting sober. The good news is that it rarely lasts more than a year or 18 months. That seems like forever at the time, especially if you feel like you can’t work, but it does end.

Creative work can actually be a tremendous asset in recovery. Music, art, writing, and other creative efforts are a way to express yourself, relieve stress, and distract yourself from anxiety and cravings. Music therapy, in particular seems to work for people who don’t respond well to other forms of treatment. You don’t even have to be a musician, but it helps.

Beyond that, creativity is more a product of work than of inspiration. The most creative artists are usually those who make a lot of stuff. They are also the ones who spend a lot of time honing their craft. Addiction makes both of these more difficult. You can’t spend hours every day practicing the piano or painting if you’re trying to get drugs all day or spending all your free time drinking. When you get sober, you can actually prioritize your art and devote your full attention to it. Most people are surprised how much free time they suddenly have. That’s time you can spend making cool things.

While it’s true that many artists, writers, and musicians have struggled with addiction, that is more likely correlation than causation. Artists want new experiences. They are willing to take risks and they’re less bound by social norms. They’re also somewhat prone to depression and anxiety, so there’s bound to be a segment of that population that struggles with addiction. That doesn’t mean they need drugs to be creative.

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