Who is your favorite addict? I guess we have to talk about addiction as a preface to that question.
Everybody I know takes psychoactive drugs, except maybe some Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and the like.
All drugs are habit-forming, but only a subset of psychoactive drugs can produce psychological and physical dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when taken away, the usual definition of addiction.
Most people who become addicted to one drug often also take other drugs. But one drug may predominate.
So, who is your favorite alcoholic? So many famous people to choose from. How about Edgar Allen Poe, Mickey Mantle, Betty Ford, Ulysses S. Grant, or Ernest Hemingway?
Who is your favorite tobacco addict? Again, such a smorgasbord of prominent cigarette addicts. Would you pick Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Humphrey Bogart?
And what about heroin addicts? A different sort of group, but prominent indeed. And if you extend heroin a bit to opium, you might choose Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, or John Keats.
Cocaine addicts? How about Whitney Houston, Stephen King, or Sherlock Holmes.
Is it that psychoactive drug use, up to and including addiction, is so prevalent that, statistically, one should expect a certain large number of all people to be addicts?
Or is there some kind of association, even a causation, between human or environmental properties that lead both to addiction and to extraordinary creativity, productivity, and prominence on the human stage.
I would love to see some epidemiologist or biostatistician attack that question. Or it could be as simple as availability and plenty of money to obtain the drug.
Meanwhile, you might like to take a look at an extraordinary new book by esteemed medical historian Professor Howard Markel of the University of Michigan called An Anatomy of Addiction to try to crawl into the minds of medical icons Sigmund Freud and William Halsted to figure out how they got hooked, dissect cause and effect, retrospectively and bi-directionally.
Did the drugs aid and abet genius or did genius lead to the drugs, or is it all just happenstance? Beats me; but it is interesting.
And we haven’t even touched those “other addictions” — overeating, oversexing, overtexting, overgambling, overgaming, overexercising, and overinterneting, and their relationship to genius and, may I say, overproducing.
George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.