Artist Rehab: Creativity and Recovery

Artist Rehab: The Creativity Connection

What is artist rehab? It means to rehabilitate an artist from active addiction. Hence, it is the process of getting an artist into recovery. There does seem to be a link between creativity and addiction per se.

Why does addiction affect so many artists?

In fact, there are many addicted artists. We see it all the time in the news. There are actors and actresses, musicians, authors, and more.

It almost seems as if having a creative ability is a risk factor for addiction. Some examples of great creative geniuses who suffered from addiction include Charles Dickens, addicted to opiates, Ernest Hemmingway, alcohol, Kurt Kobain, heroin, Philip K. Dick, amphetamines, Stephen King, cocaine and multiple other drugs, Vincent van Gogh, alcohol, Sigmund Freud, cocaine, Amy Winehouse, alcohol. The list goes on of well-known leaders and geniuses with substance use disorders and mental health issues.

So, why do artists suffer so often with drug addiction?

What is the link between addiction and creativity? Is it something to do with the effects of drugs on a functioning dopamine system in the central nervous system? Do these leaders and geniuses feel the need to use drugs or alcohol to get the creative juices flowing?

Or is addictive behavior a consequence of high intelligence and creativity? Some highly creative people who have struggled with addiction state that they could not “turn it off” without the help of drugs and alcohol.

Neuroscientist, David Linden, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine believes that the same rewards of risk-taking that stimulate the dopamine reward system in the brain are connected to addiction as well as leadership and success.

Read more of David J. Linden’s work on the biological basis of pleasure and the brain in Scientific American.

We might also make the same connection between the thrill of being willing to take a high risk with creative expression in art, music, and literature. His theory attempts to make sense of the observation that so many great leaders and artists suffer from long term addiction issues.

There are several theories about creativity and addiction.

While it may be that there is no good explanation, there are some theories. First, artists may be more at risk for substance abuse due to creative obstruction in early life. A child may be blocked by their parents and teachers from fully expressing and developing their talent.

Or, it could be due to feelings of being different and feeling like an outsider. Another possibility could be an association of depression and anxiety with creativity. In fact, other forms of mental illness could be connected to high creative ability.

What is the best way to help an artist recover?

That’s easy, the best form of artist rehab is to encourage the artist to practice their art! Of course, when an artist gets addiction treatment, the doctor and therapist must provide proven medical therapies. For opioid addiction, for example, this will include medication and psychotherapy.

Yet, in addition to medical treatment, medical professionals must also take into account that they are treating an artist. Artistic expression will be an important component of the artist’s recovery. Music and art therapy have many benefits.

Feeling pleasure and satisfaction from the act of artistic creation is far better than the fleeting euphoria from a drug or alcohol high. It is important that we motivate patients to engage in their art and move forward in developing their creative skills.

Who should get art therapy?

Residential and outpatient programs should always provide artist rehab programs with art therapy activities. So, which patients should participate in art therapy? All of them, of course! Guided creative expression can help all addicted patients in moving forward in recovery.

It is possible that many natural creative people have been suppressed to the point of never having the opportunity to discover their talent. We must provide the tools and instruction to involve all of our patients in artist rehab activities.

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