Why many writers drink

Writing in Medium with his trademark acerbic wit and razor-sharp insight, our old friend/contributor (and my favorite cultural critic) Mark Dery recalls his past penchant for booze and considers whether it's just the writer's way.

"Alcohol offers a devil's bargain: inspiration through disinhibition, at the cost of a few I.Q. points, maybe even an early grave," Mark wrote in an email. "Why are writers, more than other artists, so willing to take that risk? In my latest Medium column, I explore the relationship between scribblers and tippling, and recount the harrowing tale of my dark passage from devotee of the martini shaker to wistful inductee into the Temperance League.

From "Why Writers Drink — and This One Doesn't":

We drink for myriad, sometimes complicated, occasionally contradictory reasons, not all of them reducible to entries in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The long, storied history of the use of mind-altering substances by the creative class as aids to inspiration and productivity is too often ignored in favor of the DSM-friendly disease model favored by what Dr. Allen Frances, in his book Saving Normal, calls "the medical-industrial complex."

That's not to say genes play no role in predisposition to alcohol abuse: "Abundant evidence indicates that alcoholism is a complex genetic disease," the authors of the paper "Genetics and alcoholism" assert, "with variations in a large number of genes affecting risk." But the interplay between nature and nurture, genes and memes, is complex.

No doubt, genetics, heredity, and deep-seated psychological issues go far in explaining Ernest Hemingway's, Malcolm Lowry's, and Jack Kerouac's unwavering dedication to drinking themselves into an early grave.

Still, our 12-step, pop-psych culture tends to pathologize, to psychologize, or to file under genetics and heredity what might, in the case of some writers, be more usefully viewed through the lens of rational choice theory.

Don't miss Mark's other freshly-cut Medium columns, including "How Stoicism Became Broicism" and "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Bald Woman."