Creativity & Addiction

Many of our clients at The Rose show a great amount of artistic talent and creativity, making art therapy sessions popular. The abundance of creative people who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction begs the question, “What is the link between creativity and addiction?”

We know the cliché “artists are moody.” But does it have scientific merit? If people with certain dispositions are more likely to be creative than others, does environment play a role or is creativity set in stone?

In one study, nearly 100 people completed a standard creativity task: they manipulated triangles to form pictures then did a mock job interview involving a speech and a Q & A session. Evaluators gave either positive or negative feedback. Participants in the control group gave the speech to an empty room. Afterwards, participants completed a questionnaire to measure their emotions, and made a collage out of a bunch of different materials again (another creativity task.)

The people who received negative feedback tended to display more artistic creativity than the other participants. This was especially true for those who had low levels of the hormone DHEAS, which is linked to depression. So people who were predisposed to feeling bad took the negative criticism harder—and that down mood made them more creative.

If depression and criticism yield creativity, then it’s no wonder we’re flush with tortured artists. This doesn’t sound terribly optimistic, but what we try to communicate to our clients is, “don’t think that you need to be depressed to be creative.” In the future remember that if you do have depressive tendencies, there’s a potential upside. The next time you’re enveloped in a mood, try to harness your emotions into producing something, rather than sinking further down. Being creative can help you feel better and overcome addiction too.