Professional Artists and Addiction: Is There Any Correlation?

There is a popular, controversial belief that many artists struggle with substance use. Some say that because these people are artists, they are bound to develop struggles with substances due to the nature of their profession.

With famous stories of artists such as Janice Joplin (singer/songwriter in the 1960’s), Ernest Hemingway (writer during the mid-1930s), and Andy Warhol (film director, artist who developed ‘art pop’), there is evidence for those that claim this theory to have some truth. However, should it stop artists from following their passions due to the fear of abusing substances?

Seeing the Connection

If this scenario is a fairly common one, what is the explanation? One potential explanation could be explained through external factors aside from one’s own sense of creativity. 

For example, stress can be a significant contributing factor in the development of substance abuse. Although artists are lucky that they get to do what they love for a living, this does not mean they do not experience less stress than everyone else. On the contrary, artists may experience more stress than other professions for various reasons. Some of these reasons may include:

  • Uncertainty of demand: Those with more stable jobs such as a lawyer, accountant, or nurse are paid by salary, meaning they are certain of their employment status and consistent payment. Artists do not have this luxury most of the time, which can create a lot of stress. Many artists find their employment through ‘gigs’ which can be unreliable sources of income. In this way, this profession comes along with much uncertainty and stress. 
  • Strict deadlines: While many jobs and professions have various deadlines that they must adhere to, artists’ deadlines can be particularly demanding. Artists typically run their own businesses, which makes their schedules incredibly hectic. No one is around to help them answer phone calls, make appointments, buy new materials, etc., meaning not only do artists have to create works of art, but they must work as every other employee as well.
  • Self-doubt: Because of the vulnerable nature of being an artist, there is a certain level of self-doubt and self-consciousness that comes along with that profession. Creating art means creating work that is reflective of the artist in some way, so when it does not sell or is not gaining much profit, the artist can take this very personally. It can feel as if people do not like the artist themselves if they do not like the art. It is easy to develop feelings and thoughts of extreme self-doubt within this profession. 
  • Lack of structure: For many professions, there are specific steps people must follow to gain entry into the desired field of interest. However, for artists, these steps are not so clear cut. In a way, artists are lucky because they do not need schooling to have a successful career. However, this lack of structure for developing and furthering their careers can make the process incredibly confusing and challenging. This can leave one experiencing many feelings of doubt, fear, and stress.
  • Pressure to succeed: Some artists who have made creations that have been successful in the past feel increased pressure to continue creating works that people like. This pressure can cause an artist to begin sacrificing their joy and authenticity for the approval of others. Doing so can cause distress and burn-out, leading the artist to stop doing what they love altogether.

Knowing the Facts

Many say that artists, due to their deep sense of creativity, are “tortured souls.” While some may believe this, there is no real evidence of this idea. Being creative does not mean that a person will struggle with substance abuse. Many other factors contribute to a person developing this specific problem.

Mental health plays a significant role when it comes to the potential of developing a substance abuse issue. Your mental state affects how you perceive and react to life around you, including people and events. Those struggling to find their place in the world during difficult times may find that drugs and alcohol help them make it through life’s trials and tribulations. However, building mental resilience through the development of healthy coping skills and cognitive work can significantly decrease the risk of having to manage a substance abuse problem.

The environment a person currently lives in or even grew up in can influence their potential for addiction in life. If a person has been or is currently surrounded by those who use substances to help them with their work or even to manage life’s various stressors, this person will grow accustomed to the idea of having substances be a regular part of one’s everyday life. This then means the person is more at-risk for using substances themselves. 

An artist who is passionate about their work should not give up what they do just because there is the potential for developing an addiction to substances. However, being aware of the potential triggers for what can cause a person to develop an addiction is necessary for moving forward with your work. Added stressors, combined with external predispositions, can make life as an artist rather difficult. Even though there may be added stressors, this does not mean an artist cannot be successful in doing what they love. Those of us at Rickard Elmore Treatment Strategies want to support you as you live out your passions. Being able to do what you love for a living is a gift, and we are here to equip you with everything you need to continue on your journey. Call us today at (877) 387-7197 to discuss the ways in which we can assist you with reaching your goals.