Writers’ Traits: Alcoholism
Writers have a reputation for being serious drinkers—although some are even teetotallers. And drinking has a bad rep—at least in North America, which still has a nasty puritanical streak. For 13 years, Americans put up with total Prohibition! But even now drinking as much as is typical in many other countries is treated as a ‘problem’. According to the NIH (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse) anyone who has more than 14 drinks in a week is considered a “heavy drinker” and “at risk”. If that’s taken as the definition of being a heavy drinker, it’s probably fair to say a lot of writers are heavy drinkers. (I feel better knowing I’m in good company.)
Of course there are people for whom alcohol consumption is indeed a problem or ‘abuse’, and this is unquestionably a very real and common problem. Alcohol abuse is usually defined as resulting in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. That makes sense.
There are plenty of examples of writers known for being notorious imbibers who damaged their health by their habit. Just one famous example is the great poet, Dylan Thomas, who drank himself into an early grave while on a reading tour.
And such writers as Hemingway offer amble evidence of excessive drinking damaging one’s interpersonal relationships. He had four unsuccessful marriages and ruined several close friendships by his drunken behaviour.
But whether it damages a writer’s ability to work is not so clear. It certainly didn’t seem to have that effect on Dylan Thomas or Ernest Hemingway. Nor apparently did it harm other great writers such as Faulkner or Fitzgerald or the many other writers whose drinking may have been a very serious problem in other aspects of their lives.
Some writers even insist it is essential to their writing, because it gets the creative juices flowing. Or say it essential for their sanity in a world where their work is not valued sufficiently. I’m sure for them this is just a price worth paying for being able to work.