Intoxication & creativity: Sides of the same coin?

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Representative image (Source:

Rough build up

Maltese physician, psychologist, author, inventor and consultant Edward de Bono once said that creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. Bono, when said ‘breaking out of established patterns’ surely did not mean that a creative person needs to follow the path of intoxication to achieve creative ‘nirvana’. Or maybe he did mean it in a subtle way as in most cases we see that ‘substance abuse’ is quite high among the creative souls (artists, writers, painters and musicians).

History throws up a number of examples of singers and artists who even after having an inclination towards substance created some of the most awesome music of all the time. In this list, one name that comes right at the top is that of Jim Morrison- known for his infamous affair with alcohol. In fact the pop icon can serve as an exemplary case to investigate the interrelation between alcohol and drug abuse and creativity.

“Many artists and performers think that alcohol and drugs enhance their creativity. But scientific studies in this regard are scarce and conclusions are limited for methodological reasons. Moreover, extraordinary creativity can hardly be grasped by empirical-statistical methods. What we need is ideographic studies to learn from extraordinarily creative persons about the relationship of creativity with alcohol and drugs,” Prakash Sahu, an Odisha-based activist said in 2002 while delivering a lecture in Cuttack.

But it is not that alcohol and drug abuse is limited to the creative persons only. Studies reveal that the number of people taking drugs and alcohol have been increasing across the length and breadth of the country. In Kerala, with closure of bars, more and more people are taking drugs- in fact there has been the rise has been three-fold increase.

The scenario in North East Region is not so sunny as well as the number of drug abusers in the region is actually the highest in comparison to other states!


Inaugurating the first regional workshop on prevention of substance (drugs) abuse in Shillong few months back, Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot said that ‘instead of decreasing, the number of drug abusers is especially high in the North East and Western India.’

“The western region’s proximity to the opium cultivation areas called the Golden Crescent countries (Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan) has made drugs accessible there. Youths are getting into drugs in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana and others,” he had said, adding, “Similarly the North East’s proximity to the Golden Triangle countries (Myanmar-Laos-Thailand) has led to increase of drug abuse in the region. Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram are the worst affected.”

But the big question out here is as why is a budding musician or an artist attracted towards drugs and alcohol even after knowing the side effects and the bitter consequences?

“There is no proper answer to this question and everything is hypothetical. Some may call it style statement, while some may call it as an act of influence. Some on the other hand fall prey to these substances due to their own emotional and psychological imbalance. Society, family, our surroundings, our upbringing and every little thing that surrounds us have an impact and influence. If the reason is hard to define, it is even harder to assume,” psychiatrist S Boragohain opined.

Gourav ‘Maama’ Saikia of Swadhay when was asked if drugs and alcohol is all very important to create good music, he said, “No, I don’t think. It is not about taking drugs to create good music, but I think sometimes we need some pain to make music. Alcohol and drugs abuse is not the solution.”

“Many people ask me why musicians take drugs or are too alcoholic even after knowing that it is killing them gradually? I have just one simple answer- I don’t know! I can just assume just like others. Maybe they become so addicted that leaving it will destroy them, their creativity,” the young musician further added.

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Representative photograph (Source: Internet)

Few extra words

Popular RJ and educator RJ Rag alias Angarag Bhuyan when was asked the interrelation between substance abuse and creativity said that he doesn’t agree to the concept of substance abuse and creativity walking side by side and further said that there is no interrelation.

“Some people may think that they go side by side as we have seen many creative people using drugs. But there are several teetotaller scientists and artists as well,” said the host of Late Night Masti– one of the most popular shows of FM in Assam.

Speaking further he said that using drugs is gradually turning to be a highly romanticised idea.

“Sometimes drugs may relax some of the nerves, but it also causes damage to nerves. I have seen many youngsters who idolises big artists. They dress like their idol and also are of the notion that they should use the same intoxication which their idol uses,” he further said.

“Those who are into drugs and creativity claim that some sort of intoxication is required for creating masterpieces but here I would like to question if God was in an inebriated condition while he was giving shape to the universe? Sachin Tendulkar, was he a drug addict and alcoholic?  By saying that drugs and alcohol is essential for creativity is like saying bribe is necessary to get work done. Certain bad examples should not change our reality,” he added.

All about Northeast

The Union Minister revealed in his data that NE region is the hub of drug and alcohol abuse in the region. There is a popular claim that Guwahati is the city with highest density of liquor shops in India (not official claim). Survey however shows that there are 303 liquor shops and 128 bars in the city- quite high for a city having 216 square kilometre area.

“Even though liquor is banned in several places of Nagaland and Mizoram, it is smuggled from other states. Manipur’s marijuana is another popular intoxication that is famous amid the youngsters,” said the member of a popular music band from Shillong seeking anonymity.

“Most of the music bands from Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Manipur are heavy metal bands and for performing the musicians need lot energy and to maintain the high adrenaline level going, they at times take help of performance enhancing drugs, alcohol and marijuana. Why us, look at Zubeen Garg and Papon! They too are addicted, aren’t they? People like Christopher Nolan are also addicted to some sort of addiction. Creativity of the highest level needs some intoxication, but we all need to see that we keep a reign over it,” he further said, adding, “I can say you one thing for sure that the numbers of substance abusers in North East is increasing due to several other reasons. An unholy market is blooming in the region and the drug peddlers from the neighbouring countries have entered the region and gradually they are turning our youths addict. Neither all drug addicts are not creative, nor all creative soul is an addict but even then we have the highest number of drug addict in the country. There is more to the picture than what we are actually seeing.”

(Published in the December 2015 issue of Good Times of Northeast)


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Representative image



3 thoughts on “Intoxication & creativity: Sides of the same coin?

  1. Brilliant article on a very pertinent issue. This is a question which have perhaps crossed our mind at some point of time in our life but there has never been a clear answer. Kudos to you Baap for trying to find the answer. One line from your article sums up this situation best- drugs and alcohol is essential for creativity is like saying bribe is necessary to get work done

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