58 Famous Writers And Their Addictions – Writers of Substance (Abuse)

The muse has always been a serious subject for writers. Where does the inspiration come from? Some writers have found it in odd rituals and strange substances.

Simply Strange

  1. Friedrich Von Schiller kept rotten apples under the lid of his desk. Before he wrote, he would open it and take a good lungful of air. Apparently the words came more easily afterwards.
  2. Colette could only write after picking fleas from her cats.
  3. T.S. Eliot enjoyed writing when he had a head cold.
  4. Lord Byron needed to have sex to write. He slept with 250 women and men in one year in Venice, and for each conquest, he took a clipping of his partner’s pubic hair and saved it in an envelope neatly marked with his or her name.
  5. Charles Dickens was addicted to visiting the Morgue, and would spend days there.
  6. Truman Capote couldn’t begin or end anything on a Friday.

The Tea Set

  1. Samuel Johnson said ‘[I am] a hardened and shameless tea drinker, who for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of the fascinating plant; who with tea amused the evening, with tea solaced the midnight, and with tea welcomed the morning.’
  2. Henry James enjoyed his tea. ‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,’ he said.
  3. Simone de Beauvoir started her day with tea. She said: ‘I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one.’
  4. Fyodor Dostoyevsky loved his tea. He said: ‘I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.’
  5. C. S. Lewis said: ‘You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.’

The Coffee Club

  1. Honore de Balzac used to drink 50 cups of coffee a day. He woke at 1 a.m. each day and wrote for seven hours. At 8 a.m. he napped for 90 minutes, then wrote again from 9:30 to 4. He said: ‘As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.’
  2. Søren Kierkegaard had an interesting coffee ritual. He poured sugar into a coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next came the incredibly strong, black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid. Then he gulped the whole thing down in one go.
  3. Voltaire was said to have drunk 30 – 40 cups of coffee (mixed with chocolate) every day.
  4. Gertrude Stein also loved coffee.  She wrote: ‘Coffee gives you time to think. It’s a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.’
  5. Benjamin Franklin had high standards for his coffee. He said:  ’Among the numerous luxuries of the table…coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions…is never followed by sadness, languor or debility.’
  6. Alexander Pope enjoyed coffee. He said: ‘Coffee, which makes the politician wise, and see through all things with his half-shut eyes.’
  7. Jean Jacques Rousseau said:  ’Ah, that is a perfume in which I delight; when they roast coffee near my house, I hasten to open the door to take in all the aroma.’
  8. Dave Barry wrote: ‘It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.’
  9. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was an enthusiastic coffee drinker.
  10. Jonathan Swift needed coffee at least once a week to write. He said: ‘The best Maxim I know in this life is, to drink your Coffee when you can, and when you cannot, to be easy without it. While you continue to be splenetic, count upon it I will always preach. Thus much I sympathize with you that I am not cheerful enough to write, for I believe Coffee once a week is necessary to that.’

Animal House

  1. Edgar Allan Poe wrote with his cat on his shoulders
  2. Charles Baudelaire wrote with a pet bat in a cage on his writing desk.
  3. Henrik Ibsen wrote with a pet scorpion close by.
  4. Charles Dickens had a beloved pet raven named Grip. He had Grip taxidermied after he died.
  5. Flannery O’Connor had many beloved peacocks.
  6. Vladimir Nabokov chased butterflies.

The Drugged

  1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge took two grains of opium before writing
  2. Jean Cocteau wrote Opium, Diary of an Addict to document his recovery by way of day-to-day journal entries. He said: ‘To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving.’
  3. Elizabeth Barrett Browning enjoyed her daily dose of opium
  4. Hunter S Thompson was addicted to hallucinogenics and cocaine
  5. Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead using the amphetamine Benzedrine as an anti-fatigue drug.
  6. William S Burroughs found plenty to write about with his heroin addiction.
  7. George Carlin was known for his drug abuse, which included pharmaceuticals, marijuana, and cocaine.
  8. Allen Ginsberg used nitrous oxide and marijuana to get him into what he called ‘an exalted state of mind’.
  9. Charles Baudelaire enjoyed marijuana and opium.
  10. Aleister Crowley gave many detailed descriptions of his lifelong experiences with heroin, morphine, mescaline, marijuana, cocaine, ether, and opium.
  11. John Keats was addicted to opium.
  12. Norman Mailer was a drug addict and alcoholic. He was arrested multiple times, punched fellow writer Gore Vidal in the face, and stabbed at least one of his six wives
  13. Philip K Dick‘s drug of choice was amphetamine: everything from crystal meth to dextroamphetamine.
  14. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote 60 000 words in six days using cocaine.
  15. Aldous Huxley took large amounts of mescaline. He also experimented with LSD and mushrooms.
  16. Ken Kesey became a lifelong psychedelic drug advocate.
  17. Thomas de Quincey lived his opium addiction. He wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
  18. David Foster Wallace was addicted to anti-depressants and alcohol. He committed suicide by hanging himself when he was 46.

The Drunken

  1. Paul Verlaine spent his days drinking absinthe in Paris cafes.
  2. Eugene O’Neill battled alcoholism for many years.
  3. Raymond Chandler abused alcohol for the entire duration of his writing career
  4. Dorothy Parker fought depression with alcohol. She said: ‘One more drink and I’ll be under the host.’
  5. John Cheever, who said, ‘There is a terrible sameness to the euphoria of alcohol and the euphoria of metaphor’ eventually won his battle against alcohol.
  6. F. Scott Fitzgerald became notorious for his heavy drinking, which left him in poor health by the late 1930s. He died when he was 44. ‘First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.’
  7. Ernest Hemingway was a heavy drinker, succumbing to alcoholism in his later years. He said: ‘A man does not exist until he is drunk.’
  8. Jack Kerouac died of cirrhosis of the liver, the result of a lifetime of heavy drinking. He said: ‘I’m Catholic and I can’t commit suicide, but I plan to drink myself to death.’
  9. Hunter S Thompson became famous for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He said: ‘I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs, or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.’
  10. James Joyces’ drinking episodes occasionally caused fights in the local pubs
  11. Charles Bukowski had a life-long affair with alcohol
  12. William Faulkner only abstained from drinking while he was writing. He said: ‘There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.’
  13. Carson McCullers‘ marriage and remarriage to an alcoholic writer, Reeves McCullers, did not help her own battles with addiction.
  14. Truman Capote said, “I drink, because it’s the only time I can stand it.’
  15. Dylan Thomas who said, ‘An alcoholic is someone you don’t like, who drinks as much as you do’, died an alcoholic.
  16. Tennessee Williams fought alcohol addiction his whole life. He said, ‘O’Neill had a terrible problem with alcohol. Most writers do. American writers nearly all have problems with alcohol.’
  17. O. Henry who died an alcoholic, kept his real identity as a writer a secret.
  18. Mary Karr who struggled with alcohol 20 years ago said, ‘I couldn’t sleep through the night without a tumbler of watered-down whiskey by my bedside.’


  1. Stephen King spent the 1980s in a haze of beer cans, cigarette butts, grams of cocaine, Xanax, Valium, Nyquil, dextromethorphan (cough medicine), and marijuana. He has since sobered up.

Have we missed any strange addictions? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

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© Amanda Patterson

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This article has 4 comments

  1. William

    “He also experimented with LSD and mushroom.” – mushrooms*

  2. Magy Escorod

    This is certainly a very strange addiction that I have read.

    Beatriz Fuentes (Mexican Writer)
    Addicted to: Darío Oliviero (Italian Actor)

    As the writer herself wrote in her facebook personal page:

    “My Testimony of Addiction”: She hallucinates along complete days and nights with Daríoly, (as she used to call him) and also reached the degree of accommodating the entity in question, comfortably in her brain. He lived in the depths of her creative imagination, being always present even in the most unexpected moments of the day or night. And while he wandered from the right to the left hemisphere of her brain, with total impunity and without anything or anyone interfering in his walks, she could only write with the tenant’s image tattooed on each letter that she imagined.

    I do not know if she is still addicted to him or not. Or if she knows him or not. She does not speak about that at all. But it seems that was a really strange addiction.

  3. Rick Lindhout

    Brendan Behan called himself ‘a drinker with a writing habit’.

    This poem by Malcolm Lowry, says it all:

    The only hope is the next drink.
    If you like, you take a walk.
    No time to stop and think.
    The only hope is the next drink.
    Useless trembling on the brink.
    Worse than useless all this talk.
    The only hope is the next drink.
    If you like, you take a walk.

  4. Iain James Robb

    A few obvious ones have been missed. Algernon Charles Swinburne, Hart Crane and Arthur Rimbaud were all famously alcoholics. So, less famously, was TS Eliot. He became a heavy drinker during the failure of his first marriage, and it probably partly prompted his recuperation in Margate, where he first came up with the idea for The Waste Land. He drank heavily through his second marriage too, where he was basically in a co-dependant relationship; his second wife was hooked on drugs.

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