Resisting Substance Abuse in Creative Professions


The arts and entertainment industry has some of the highest drug and alcohol abuse rates of any industry, with nearly 14 percent of workers using illegal drugs within the past 30 days and 11.5 percent drinking to excess in the same period. Compared to under 10 percent for most other professions, it’s clear that the creative professions have a substance abuse problem. With drugs and alcohol normalized in much of the creative world, how can budding professionals resist the pressure? Today, The Edge offers some guidance.

Understanding the Problem

Many budding creatives believe that drug and alcohol use will open up their minds and enhance creativity, but in reality, there’s no evidence that creativity and substance use are linked in any substantive way. In fact, drug and alcohol abuse may stifle creativity. Substance abuse can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that make it difficult to maintain motivation, and a preoccupation with using cuts into time that would otherwise be spent productively. So while some people may tout the benefits of intoxication, the evidence says otherwise.

Even professionals who don’t buy into the idea that substances beget creativity could still find themselves entrenched in drug and alcohol abuse. The high-stress, deadline-heavy nature of many creative professions means that many creatives struggle with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression, and turn to substances to cope.

But just because substance abuse is normalized in some corners of the creative community doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable. It’s possible for professionals to find success without succumbing to pressures, but it does require effort.

Image by Michael Discenza from Unsplash

Moderation and Reducing Stressors

Happy hour gatherings are an important bonding ritual for many young creatives, but this can be the first rung on a downward spiral into addiction. Instead of imbibing to excess at every happy hour, alternate alcoholic drinks with water and don’t be afraid to opt out of the booze when you have important tasks on your plate. While it can feel uncomfortable to say no the first time, the fact that you aren’t drinking will quickly be forgotten by those who are.

If drugs are offered and you have trouble turning them down, devise stock excuses that you can lean on. Saying that certain substances make you feel unwell is a white lie that keeps you healthy without hurting your professional reputation.

If you currently use drugs and alcohol, reducing workplace stress is the first step in creating a healthier lifestyle. If you feel like your current job isn’t conducive to your mental health, then perhaps it’s time to move on. Searching for a new job can be scary but you can give yourself an edge by using this free resume builder to catch the eyes of potential employers and boost your confidence.

Building a Community

Considering the demanding nature of creative professions, setting personal boundaries is one of the most powerful tools that artists have. Manage your workload by learning how to say no to projects that don’t advance your career or that require more effort than the pay is worth. If you freelance, balance steady contracts with exciting projects to find a work-life balance that fits for you.

Connect with career-focused peers who are leading a healthy lifestyle, and follow their lead in finding healthy ways to cope with work stress. Instead of turning to a glass of wine after work, make mindfulness exercises, yoga, and intense, mind-clearing physical activity a part of your weekly schedule.

If those efforts aren’t enough, look for support groups that can help you move away from substances and into a healthier way of living. Addiction recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and SMART recovery programs for secular users can be valuable, non-judgmental programs for drug and alcohol users of all demographics. Addiction counseling, hypnotherapy and energetically healing may lead you to the root of your own addiction struggles, and social support networks can help you find a path forward during recovery.

Know that this journey will not be easy. Often life-changing growth requires us to be uncomfortable first. But it will all be worth it as the anxiety and discomfort you feel as a result of working on your recovery leads to important personal growth.

If you’re a creative professional living with addiction, you’re not alone. Alcohol and drug abuse is a persistent issue in the artistic community. But moving past addiction doesn’t have to mean leaving art behind. In fact, recovery just might lead to the artistic breakthrough you’ve been waiting for.

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