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Do Drugs Make You More Creative?

Anne Wayman touched on one of my pet peaves about creativity today in her post, “Lady Gaga Gets High To Write – Will It Work For You?” over at her blog About Freelance Writing.

In the post, Anne confesses that drugs and alcohol do not feed her particular muse. As she puts it, “I either got lazy and didn’t write at all, or, when I sobered up what I had written was just plain awful.”

Sipping my drug of choice - espresso - in Naples, Italy
Sipping my drug of choice - espresso - in Naples, Italy

On the other hand, Lady Gaga recently confessed to Anderson Cooper that she smokes pot whilst penning her tunes. I am sure that this comes as no surprise to many people, and that is precisely what bugs me. I can just hear certain people I know going, “Of course she’s on drugs. Just look at those crazy outfits. It’s obvious.”

I realize that throughout history many creative people have leaned heavily on drugs to ignite their muse. It works for some, and it drives others into an early grave. Different strokes for different folks and all that. What bothers me is when people assume that creativity and drugs always go hand in hand.

Why does this annoy me so much? You see, I’ve had an artsy fartsy streak my whole life. Being playful, imaginative, goofy and weird comes easily to me. Being organized, focused and normal (well, normal-ish) is a daily struggle, but I do my best. Add to this that I am nearly always in a good mood, and the result is that people often assume I am high when I am not!

I guess I’m lucky because – as cheesy as this sounds – I can get high on life. Don’t sneer! I don’t say that lightly. I say that because I have been accused of being high (while completely sober) so many times in my life.

One time, I was working as a barista, and while my back was turned, I overheard a sweet elderly couple talking about me. “She’s always so cheerful,” said the husband.

“Kinda makes you wonder what she’s on,” replied the wife.

On? What am I on? I was completely blindsided by their remarks and, truth be told, it hurt my feelings. This couple came to the coffeehouse often, and we had – or at least I thought we had – a great rapport.

Still, it wasn’t an isolated incident. I get stuff like, “What did you smoke for breakfast?” all the time, and had a boss whose nickname for me was, “the walking bong hit.” I am not making that up! (Ironically, he smokes pot and I don’t.)

That said, I am not a complete teetotaler. I love a foo-foo cocktail (bring on the umbrellas and cherries, I say!), a big glass of wine, or a tasty Belgian beer, and I love the buzz which those tasty drinks supply. I may even get some creative ideas while tipsy, but I certainly can’t start a day of serious writing with booze. I’d pass out by lunch.

Still, I can’t say that I write completely sober, either. My workday ritual includes a good cup of espresso paired with the spaciest ambient music I can find on streaming radio. When the writing is going well, I am in an altered state. Nothing woo-woo, just a pleasant head space that’s more absent-minded professor than drugged up rock star, y’know?

What about you? Do drugs enhance your creativity? Do you automatically assume that creative people use drugs to get their ideas flowing? Do people ever think you’re sober when you’re high, or high when you’re sober?

Oh, and if you happen to be a writer, check out Anne Wayman’s blog About Freelance Writing.. It will give you a good, writerly high, man.

Tui Snider
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Published inTravel Photo Essays


  1. I’ve never tried a drug in my life (unless you count Diet Pepsi) and I rarely drink, but I’m extremely creative. When I was a kid, I used the phrase “high on life” a lot. At parties, people always assume I’m drunk because I’m goofy. But I’m usually goofy.

    I’ve always hated that assumption that drugs make one more creative. Look at Stephen King. Love the man, but the stuff he wrote while high on cocaine was pure crap. I think drugs can make a person FEEL like they’re more creative, but what actually results is usually not that good. And then the drug takes over and the addict’s life becomes about the next fix, not writing a sonnet or whatever.

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi Holli,

      When I’m nervous, I will have a drink at the start of a party, but it’s best for me to quit after that. Like you, I’m usually goofy. It’s just how I am calibrated!

      I didn’t realize that Stephen King had a cocaine phase! Wonder how he feels about the stuff he wrote then?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s always nice to know a fellow goofball! :D

  2. You know that that is also just a figure of speech. People say, “What is she on?” about people when they are in a particularly chirpy mood, even if it is someone they know for a fact that they are not and would not be on drugs. I mean, hard to tell just in print if it was meant that way, but it just sounded like an overreaction to me.

    As for me, don’t use any drugs. I drink very occasionally, and have never written/done other creative things while under the influence. I do find my creativity to end up being very mood-based, and I have to work to create those moods, because there are ways to increase them (making sure I’m healthy and happy, also just surrounding myself with other inspiring material). I feel like it might be easier to get surreal ideas on drugs, but that it’d be harder to put them together into something coherent.

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Jennie,

      Guess you had to be there! I enjoy lighthearted teasing, but this was different. If I could tell you the story in person, I could add the facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. I worked as a barista for years, and believe me, it takes a thick skin to speak to certain members of the public – especially before they’ve had their first cup of coffee. In general, I tended to err on the side of “they’re just having a bad day,” and chalk things up to Jungian projection when dealing with a busy crowd. Every now and then, though, a comment would get to me. Even then, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve come to realize that the comments that “hurt my feelings” were telling me more about my feelings than about the person who said them.

      I know what you mean about “mood based” creativity, and I also try to surround myself with inspiring material to keep myself in the right frame of mind. This post was my knee jerk reaction to the deeply engrained idea that drugs and creativity go hand in hand.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and leaving such thoughtful comments. I will swing by your blog and say hello. Hope to see you here again!

  3. […] I’ve heard the “overactive imagination” thing my whole life, but what really irks me is when people insinuate my creativity is somehow drug-related. (Some of you may recall how I ranted about this a while ago in a post called Do Drugs Make You More Creative?) […]

  4. Hey Tui, great post! Mood-enhancing drugs are a definite ‘need’ for some medical conditions, yes, but what does it say when people assume you’re ‘high’ on something if you’re happy? What has happened to our society? You sparkle, fueled just by a lotta life as your happy juice, and then share that zest for life with others! Shame on them for thinking otherwise.

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Thanks, Aerie-el! Speaking of, ‘sharing the zest.’ I always enjoy spending time with your zesty self! :) ~Tui

  5. Good to see you back and love this new format. The one you had previously made it hard to find what was new :-(

    Alcohol is my drug of choice. And while I get some good ideas, I’m not a fan of writing while intoxicated.

    • mentalmosaic mentalmosaic

      Hi Paula,

      Yeah – I’ve been really restless with my blog this year, yanking it this way and that. I promise to settle down with it soon. ;)

      After I post something today, I plan to check out your photo blog and see what I’ve been missing!


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