Gifted, Talented, Addicted
by Douglas Eby, Talent Development Resources
Pearl Buck commented, "The truly creative mind in any field is
no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly
Winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938, she also added, "By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating."
A number of people with exceptional abilities have used drugs and alcohol as self-medication to ease the pain of that sensitivity, or as a way to enhance thinking and creativity. Sometimes they risk addiction.
drank wine about as often as he wrote music, and was an
alcoholic or at least a problem-drinker.
thinks drug use "has less to do with recreation and more to do
with the fact that we need to escape from our brains. We need
to escape from everyday life. It's self-medication and that's
she adds, "The danger of turning from creative messenger to
addicted body is great, and many writers have succumbed,
especially to the siren song of alcohol."
Baudelaire was an example of that. He wrote in Artificial
Paradises [Les Paradis artificiels, 1860]: "You know that
hashish always evokes magnificent constructions of light,
glorious and splendid visions, cascades of liquid gold."
led a debauched, violent, and ultimately tragic life, dying an
opium addict in 1867.
cultural climate, the zeitgeist, can have a profound effect on
how people think of addiction, and what substances they use or
described in the article Addiction: a Myth of Modernity? by
William Pryor, Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a medical herbalist,
developed in the late 1880s his "Pemberton's French Wine Coca,
which he copied from Vin Mariani, a blend of Bordeaux and
coca.. [which had testimonials from] Thomas Edison, Emile
Zola, Queen Victoria and no fewer than three Popes.
syrup was taken mixed with soda water. He called it Coca
Pemberton died in 1888 at age 56, from morphine
declares, "Addiction is a construct of modernity, one that
knows no boundaries of class, circumstance or intellect, a
mythic construct that seems to explain what is nigh on
inexplicable, our strange response to the pain of being
pain can have multiple dimensions, including existential
aspects, and be especially poignant for highly sensitive
gifted and talented people.
Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D., director of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development and the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, notes in her article "Emotional Intensity" that intensity "is one of the personality concomitants of giftedness. It is natural for the gifted to feel deeply and to experience a broad range of emotions."
"Dabrowski would probably suggest that in the face of strong overexcitability one needs to relax and "weather the storm" without resorting to distortions of reality or the use of intoxicating substances."
their article "A Bioanthropological Overview of Addiction,"
Doris F. Jonas, Ph.D. and A. David Jonas, M.D. consider that
such a "nervous system so exquisitely adapted to perceiving
the minutest changes in environmental signals clearly becomes
overwhelmed and produces dysphoria when its carrier must exist
among the exponentially increased social stimuli of a modern
also experience psychomotor excitability, when feeling
emotionally tense, they may "act impulsively, misbehave and
act out." Drug and alcohol abuse can be one form of this.
the line I would be transformed from a person with a nervous
system so sensitive that, when sober, merely being addressed
by a fellow human being almost caused me to hyperventilate,
into a bold, assertive, self-confident advocate for victims of
racial oppression and gender discrimination."
sometimes ask me, How could you have gotten through law school
drunk? My answer is that there is no way I could have gotten
through law school if I hadn't been drunk."
understanding the source of their frustration or ways to
alleviate it, they may opt to relieve the pain through the use
of alcohol, drugs, food or other addictive substances or
behaviors. Or they may simply hunker down and live their lives
in survival mode."
book Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary
Potential, Lisa, 14, talks about being given Valium by a
doctor: "Taking pills or smoking a joint helped get me through
She said gifted kids take drugs "To dull themselves... there is so much of the wrong kind of stimulation going on around you."
writer and memoirist Anne Lamott [left] has been very candid
about her years of drug and alcohol abuse in her Salon.com
column and elsewhere.
PBS profile, she commented about starting in eighth grade:
"You're completely hormonally challenged up the ying-yang and
on top of all these feelings they make you go to dances. I
stood around, and no one asked me to dance, and then I had
like a beer and a half. And boys asked me to dance and I was
think things started to work for me a little bit better when I
started to take drugs and to drink alcoholically. I started to
drink pretty regularly by the time I was 13. I got very drunk
on a nightly basis from the time I was about 19 'til 32."
finds being sober a "grace" supported by her Christian faith.
28 she overdosed, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"Maybe I was taking drugs to keep the monster in the box," she
arena in which drugs are often prescribed is for the treatment
of learning disorders such as ADD / ADHD.
report titled Substance Abuse and Learning Disabilities: Peas
in a Pod or Apples and Oranges? says there is an addiction or
abuse risk with these disorders: "ADHD affected individuals
have a high incidence of substance abuse, and ADHD is further
associated with an earlier onset of substance abuse and a
greater difficulty shaking addiction.
that as many as half of those suffering ADHD self-medicate
with drugs and alcohol. An individual with ADHD is twice as
likely as one without ADHD to abuse substances."
be a convenient term, but the concept is not simple, and there
can be a wide spectrum of behaviors and qualities of
relationship with various substances.
musician Elton John has commented, "A lot of good things have
happened to me, and it's all because of sobriety. I went into
treatment [for drug and alcohol addiction], and I emerged with
my eyes open."
Myth of Modernity? by William Pryor [also see several
other informative articles by Pryor]
and Learning Disabilities: Peas in a Pod or Apples and
Oranges?, from the National Center for Addiction and
Substance Abuse at Columbia University [PDF file.]
Douglas Eby, M.A./Psychology, is a writer, researcher and online publisher on the psychology of creative expression and personal growth. He is publisher of the Talent Development Resources series of sites http://talentdevelop.com
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