Great Writers Cut Short By Drug Abuse
Throughout history, many of the world’s most creative minds have been plagued by periods of intense drug abuse. The link between creativity and drug addiction has been so strong that, in recent years, various studies by psychologists have examined whether creative people are simply predisposed to mental health problems and, by proxy, drug use.
The list of artists, musicians, actors and musicians who have died as a result of their own self-destructive behaviour is almost endless and writers are no different. In fact, the writing community has been the subject of institutionalised drug use for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, a by-product of this prevalent drug use in the writing community is the premature end of several great writing careers.
Romanticism and Glorification of Drug Use
Potential predisposition to mental health issues aside, the writing community has a seperate problem, which has ultimately led to the high number of drug-addicted novelists, poets and authors we regularly hear of; the glorification of drug use.
Any vaguely detailed study of Romanticism exposes the huge level of drug use amongst Romantic era writers. The eighteenth century saw increased importation of opium to Britain, from countries such as Persia and Egypt. As a result, the romantic era has been described as a time of increased output of literary texts and increased drug use.
Although the true nature of opium’s influence on Romantic era texts has been debated extensively, there is no doubt that opium and Romanticism were inextricably linked. Writers such as Thomas de Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge not only wrote under the influence of opium, they also detailed the effects that their opium use had on creativity.
Modern Drug Use in the Writing Community
The influence of writers like de Quincey is still undoubtedly felt within the writing community today. Many Romantic writers spoke of achieving heightened states of awareness, productivity and creativity through drug use and this glorification of addiction, as well as the desire for writers to achieve similar levels success, has certainly contributed towards generation after generation of writers experiencing their own addiction problems.
That said, this Romantic influence certainly does not account for the extent of drug use within the writing community. Many writers, like people in other walks of life, simply become addicted to drugs as a means of coping with personal issues or intense pressure.
In recent times, even hugely successful modern novelists, like Stephen King, have fallen prey to heavy drug use. King, during the height of his career, was heavily addicted to cocaine and has openly admitted that he has no recollection of completing some of his most successful novels.
However, while writers like Stephen King have experienced addiction to drugs, come out of the other side and ultimately lived to tell the tale, many other writers have had their careers cut short as a result of addiction and self-destruction.
An American author, famous for his short stories or novellas, Truman Capote is best known for his 1958 story ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’ and his 1966 novel ‘In Cold Blood’, a book which earned him increased fame and an Edgar Award. Many of Capote’s works have subsequently been adapted for film and television.
In the aftermath of the publication of ‘In Cold Blood’, Capote struggled personally and, throughout the 1970s he experienced a series of drug-related breakdowns, which required frequent trips to rehabilitation facilities. At the height of his fame, Capote, during a television interview, admitted he was considering suicide.
As an openly gay man, Capote spent most of his adult life in a relationship with fellow writer Jack Dunphy and it was Dunphy who really exposed the full nature of Capote’s issues with drug and alcohol addiction. Dunphy wrote in his book, ‘Dear Genius…’ that he and Capote would often live apart so that he could be spared from the pain of watching Capote’s substance abuse.
Capote briefly seemed to get his life back together during the early 1980s, undergoing a series of cosmetic surgery procedures and losing a substantial amount of weight. However, ultimately he was unable to overcome his addiction problems, hindering his ability to promote his later works. After a few troublesome years, during which Capote suffered from hallucinations, he died in 1984 as a result of liver disease complicated by his intense drug and alcohol use.
A French writer, Yves Navarre achieved success with his novel ‘Le Jardin d’acclimation’, which tells the story of a gay man who is imprisoned and ultimately subject of a lobotomy as a result of his sexuality. The novel earned Navarre the Goncourt Prize in 1980.
In the wake of the success ‘Le Jardin d’acclimation’ experienced, Navarre’s work became more frequent and he became famed for his romantic writing, which focused on the sensual, rather than the sexual.
Unfortunately, during his early 50s, Navarre’s mental health began to suffer. After a brief spell living in Canada during the early 90s, he returned to France in 1993 and battled with depression. Ultimately, his mental heath turned him onto drugs and in 1994, Navarre used barbiturates to commit suicide.
An Australian poet who began to write regularly from the age of fourteen, Michael Dransfield was in many ways a product of the influence the Romantic era had on future poetic eras. His work focused on themes including creativity, the beauty of the natural world, people’s state of mind and, of course, drug use. To emphasise the point, in 1972 he published an anthology entitled ‘Drugs Poems’.
Dransfield was also similar to the poets of the Romantic era in so much as he wrote under the influence of drugs and was extremely prolific. In an extremely short career, Dransfield was able to produce close to 1,000 poems and became one of the most widely read poets of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
However, his drug use got the better of him and, at the age of just 24, he died in 1973. Although his death is widely accepted to be the direct result of drug use, reports differ on whether he died of a heroin overdose or an infection stemming from his drug use.
There does appear to be some medical evidence which suggests a link between creative minds and mental health issues. Drug use related to mental health issues is often the result of self-medication and this can potentially be stopped by increasing awareness of the treatments available for illnesses like depression and removing the stigma associated with mental illness.
Yet writers, like musicians, often perceive drug use to be an acceptable aspect of their line of work and this glorification of substance abuse undoubtedly plays a role in the prevalence of addiction amongst them. It could, therefore, be suggested that one way of preventing similar careers from being prematurely ended would be for a full-scale change of attitudes amongst the writing community.