Writing and Drugs


  • Alice W. Flaherty Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital




creativity, motivation, writer's block, mood disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, antidepressant, alcohol, drug abuse


Brain diseases and their medical treatment may help or hurt creativity. They do so by changing the brain’s motivational system. Scientists and cultural historians have proposed links between creativity and disorders ranging from depression and psychosis to epilepsy and syphilis, but the best evidence is for conditions such as hypomania (mild mania) that elevate energy and mood. Many writers with symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or even insomnia need advice about what medications can do to creativity. Doctors, however, typically dodge the issue. This article describes what drugs may be safest, and also reviews the effects of intoxicants such as alcohol. In general, treating severe illness has benefit to creativity that outweighs the medication side effects, but some medications are better than others.

Author Biography

Alice W. Flaherty, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital

Alice W. Flaherty is an Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and practices at Massachusetts General Hospital. She completed her her A.B. and M. D. at Harvard and did a Ph.D. at M.I.T. Her scientific research focuses on brain systems that control drives, whether to walk, to communicate, or to create. Her general audience book, The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, and her childrens’ book, The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster: A Tale of Picky Eating, have received public honors. Both have been multiply translated, and dramatized. Dr. Flaherty has appeared in documentaries and news features on ABC, BBC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and in Japan, Germany, Australia, and the Middle East.



How to Cite

Flaherty, A. W. (2012). Writing and Drugs. Writing and Pedagogy, 4(2), 191–207. https://doi.org/10.1558/wap.v4i2.191



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