Writers and Addictions

“Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire, then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized, anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer -and if so, why?” – Bennett Cerf

Some of the world’s most famous writers have been addicts, abusing almost anything, from coffee and alcohol to sex and drugs. They often wrote about their addictions, about the way the human conditions is degraded by them.

Here’s a short list of famous writers and their vices:

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Arguably one of the best Russian writers to ever live, Dostoevsky struggled all his life with a gambling addiction, especially to the game of roulette. One story tells of Dostoevsky enjoying his honeymoon with his wife, only to lose all their money and then pawn her wedding dress only to afford to get back home.

He wrote his masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, because he desperately needed money to pay off gambling debts. The same can be said about his novella, The Gambler, which, in a sense, describe his own struggles to procure enough money for his vice.

Honoré de Balzac

“When we drink coffee, ideas march in like the army.”

It is said the prolific French writer used to drink up to fifty coffees per day, which is quite an accomplishment. But that didn’t seem to be enough, so at one point he began to eat coffee grounds.

Lord Byron

As opposed to Gogol (who is said to have died a virgin) or Anton Chekhov (who thought that once per year was more than enough) George Gordon Byron was addicted to sex.

Not only he had sex with over 250 women during a single year in Venice, but he also had an affair with his cousin, and even married his own step sister. He was passionate about women in a way best described by this most bizarre custom of his: he’d keep as a souvenir from his many mistress a sample of their pubic hair. He kept them in envelopes that had their names written down.

 

Charles Baudelaire

Quite popular during the 1800s, absinthe was the drink of choice for many writers and artists. Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Van Gogh, or Paul Verlaine. Of course, writers being the addictive beings that they are, they kind of abused the beverage to such an extant that Verlaine is said to have drunk it even on his deathbed.

William S. Burroughs

“The question is frequently asked: Why does a man become a drug addict?
The answer is that he usually does not intend to become an addict. You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a drug addict. It takes at least three months’ shooting twice a day to get any habit at all. And you don’t really know what junk sickness is until you have had several habits. It took me almost six months to get my first habit, and then the withdrawal symptoms were mild. I think it no exaggeration to say it takes about a year and several hundred injections to make an addict.
The questions, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in the other direction. Junk wins by default. I tried it as a matter of curiosity. I drifted along taking shots when I could score. I ended up hooked. Most addicts I have talked to report a similar experience. They did not start using drugs for any reason they can remember. They just drifted along until they got hooked. If you have never been addicted, you can have no clear idea what it means to need junk with the addict’s special need. You don’t decide to be an addict. One morning you wake up sick and you’re an addict.” – Junky, William S. Burroughs

Ernest Hemingway

“Write Drunk, Edit Sober.”

Quite the mantra, isn’t it?

Of course, Hemingway wasn’t the only one who couldn’t handle his liquor. From Dorothy Parker to John Cheever, Francis Scott Fiztgerald, to Charles Bukowski, all of them didn’t quite understand the meaning of “responsible drinking.”

Then again, no one did quite match Hemingway’s reputation when it came to alcohol. He is even said to have invented famous cocktails such as the mojito or daiquiri.

Stephen King

The King was at one time pretty much addicted to anything. Don’t believe me? Read his book, On Writing. He describes writing one of his novels, Cujo, in such a dilapidated state that he doesn’t even remember writing it. Some drug induced binge. Also, when he ran out of alcohol he’d make use of Listerine bottles.

How’s that for being a hard core addict?

What are some other famous writers and their addictions? Who is your favorite?

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