All of the factors I’m about to identify incline an artist toward addiction—that is, toward heightened biological and psychological dependence on some substance or on some behavior. Each of these factors can cause an artist to want to soothe with a substance or a behavior—and over time that can result in an addiction.
- Ordinary biological risks. These are the risks that all human beings face. A few of the clues that you may be at heightened biological risk for addiction are if your family has a history of addiction, if you have high tolerance for a substance, or if you start on a substance or behavior very early in life.
- Ordinary psychological risks. Along with biological risks, all human beings face psychological risks as well. A history of trauma or abuse, the modeling of addictive behaviors in your family, a history of unhappy or dramatic relationships, all put a person at greater risk for an addiction.
- Ordinary environmental risks. Environmental risks include poverty and the stress of economic struggling, living in a family, community, or culture where a lot of using and abusing goes on, belonging to a minority that is regarded as second class or second rate, etc.
- Desire for sensation and the pull toward sensation-seeking behaviors. Artists are at special risk because they want sensations—the experience of driving fast, the experience of painting all night—and sometimes the sensations they seek are drug-related and behavior-related.
- Idealization of using. Many artists think that addiction is romantic and maybe even necessary for the creative process. This idealization of using is dangerous and can lead an artist who is already prone to addiction to cultivate and embrace his addictive tendencies.
- Outsized appetites. Artists often have large appetites: for life, for creating, but also sometimes for alcohol, for sex, for food, and so on. The same large appetite that is an artist’s life force is also a risk factor for addiction.
- Isolation. When a person lives in too much isolation, he ends up with too much time on his hands, which is a risk factor for addiction. An artist needs solitude in order to create, but the extent to which that solitude is also isolating and alienating puts him or her at risk for addiction.
- Creative anxiety. Anxiety threads through the creative process and the creative life: the anxiety that comes with not knowing what the work needs to be done next, the anxieties associated with completing a project, showing it, and trying to sell it, and so on. This anxiety fuels addiction.
- Pressure of individuality. If you keep fighting to remain the individual you need to be, sometimes you will simply grow tired of all that fighting and want to take a break by using some soothing substance or engaging in some soothing behavior. The stronger your need for individuality, the more you may require these breaks—breaks that can easily turn into addictions.
- Oppositional issues. As you fight to retain your individuality and as you struggle to make your way in the marketplace, you may grow oppositional and be ready to fight—and all that fighting will tire you out and cause you to want to soothe yourself in ways that may become addictive.
- Intensity and adrenaline issues. Artists want to live intensely and when they do, it sends adrenaline into their system. Then they have to deal with all that adrenaline; and the most characteristic way is to “come down” via alcohol and drugs.
- Ambition and ego issues. When we think highly of ourselves and become frustrated in our efforts to get known, make our mark, have a career, and so on, those frustrations naturally lead to soothing substances and behaviors which can veer in the direction of an addiction.
- Criticism and rejection. If you’re an artist, you will be criticized and you will be rejected some portion of the time. That ego battering is wearing on the system. A diet of criticism and rejection—or even just one especially painful criticism or rejection—can open the door to addiction.
- Lack of control, authority issues, and dependency issues. There are many things that artists can influence, but very few that they can control, including their ability to have their products wanted in the marketplace. These lifelong issues can incline an artist soothe with drugs and alcohol.
- Negative self-evaluations. Artists get down on themselves. They often evaluate their efforts as wanting, their work as wanting, and generally bash themselves for not having done more as an artist and not being as successful as the could be in their art career. This self-bashing takes its toll and can lead to self-soothing behaviors.
Be on the lookout for the addictive behaviors and patterns in your life. Whether it’s a life-threatening drug or alcohol addiction, a relationship-threatening sex addiction or gambling addiction, an energy-draining and time-consuming shopping addiction, or Internet addiction—whatever form it takes, be on the lookout! And if you find that you’ve lost control—begin the recovery process immediately.
Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books, including Creative Recovery, The Van Gogh Blues, and Rethinking Depression. His latest is The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm. Email Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com.