The myth of the substance use-disordered writer

Mark Dery, a columnist for Medium, analyzes the relationship between alcohol abuse and writing. Although he stresses the physical and emotional toll of such a lifestyle, I cannot emphasize enough the danger of this narrative.

According to Luis Buñuel’s memoir My Last Sigh, he perfected his martinis by “simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin… [as] the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen … leaving it unbroken.” A poetically written quote which attests to the depth of Mark Dery’s research as well as the keenness of his prose, the cultural critic deconstructs the connection between writers and alcoholism in his Medium column, “Why Writers Drink – and This One Doesn’t.” While employing a personal essayist’s anecdotal evidence for his own artistic partnership with booze, Dery argues that the field of psychology fails to grasp the unique stress of writing for a career, in addition to the ethereal nature of inspiration and creativity, when scientists “reduce any use of mind-altering substances to a psychological disorder or a genetic predisposition.”

Personally, the “madness and genius” narrative bears no weight with me – if anything, my mental illnesses kneecap my productivity, rather than disinhibit it, because studies show my bipolar I disorder has diminished my hippocampus in size, which leaves me more vulnerable to alcohol-induced blackouts and leads to more debilitating trauma. Indeed, Dery writes, “after one too many scotches, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you realize, woozily, that everything you’ve written since the tide in the bottle ran out has been drek.” If you’re at risk of becoming one of the ninety-five thousand Americans who dies of substance use disorder, please reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.