In the wake of the sudden death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it got me thinking, “Are artists more prone to addiction than people who aren’t as creative”? Is there some trait that artists have that makes them more susceptible? After all, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is just the latest in a long line of artists who have succumbed to some kind of drug. Anna Nicole Smith, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, Amy Winehouse, Judy Garland, John Belushi, Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger. And the list goes on and on.

Research from the National Institutes of Health claims that in the past 40 years or so approximately 300 drug-related deaths have been from celebrities. Most of those were musicians and actors, but also includes other artists.

Genetic Predisposition to Addiction

But before we start putting the blame somewhere, think about this. About 40% of a predisposition to addiction is already genetically determined. This isn’t an excuse for addiction, just one reason it tends to happen.

Taking Creative Risks

Biochemistry tests on monkeys and rats shows us a lot about the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is connected to pleasure and reward. Addicts don’t feel as much pleasure, so they are always striving to get more. When you think about the fact that artists are really taking creative risks every day, maybe some of this makes sense. Risk takers tend to crave attention and will go to great lengths to get it. Many artists are the same way, craving the spotlight and driving themselves to extremes to get there.

According to Psychology Today:

“Scientists have learned that people whose minds and lives are controlled by alcohol or drugs are not more creative or more successful as a result. When asked by Scientific American magazine whether there’s a link between creativity and addiction, neuroscientist David Linden of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine responded succinctly, “No.” To suggest otherwise confuses coincidence with cause.”

Escaping Reality

Addiction is one way to avoid emotional pain and escape reality. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the career path for an artist is usually long and fraught with rejection every step of the way? Do artists tend to internalize the pain and seek to cover it up with drugs and alcohol?

Writer Pearl S. Buck said “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this. A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.”

Maybe that’s just what it boils down to. What do you think? Are artists more prone to addiction and why?