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Drinking Alcohol May Make You Creative, But Also Drunk

Drinking alcohol may make you more creative

If you’re working on the great American novel and have writer’s block, the findings of a new study on drinking alcohol and creativity might lead you to think having a few drinks will help you overcome that hurdle. While the extent of your own creativity remains to be seen, the study indicated that volunteers who drank enough beer to reach a blood alcohol level identified as legally drunk demonstrated more creativity than their sober peers.

Moderation is still the key

Hemingway drank to excess; so did Jim Morrison, James Thurber, Veronica Lake, Amy Winehouse, and Dylan Thomas. Although we’ll probably never know if alcohol contributed to their creativity (although it did contribute to their deaths), a new study suggests it may be the case.

At the University of Illinois, a team of psychologists asked 40 young men to undergo a series of brain teasers designed to evaluate their creativity. Half of the men participated in the test without drinking any alcohol, while the other half consumed the equivalent of two pints of beer, which placed their blood alcohol level at 0.75.

A blood alcohol level of 0.08 to 0.10 is considered legally drunk. Most states consider any amount of alcohol in your system to be against the law if you are younger than 21.

The men who consumed the alcohol solved the problems on the test faster (an average of 12 seconds per question vs 15.5 seconds) and were more likely to experience sudden insights than their sober peers. Men in the drinking group also solved nearly 40% more problems than men in the other group.

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According to co-author Jennifer Wiley, “The bottom line is that we think being too focused can blind you to novel possibilities, and a broader, more flexible state of attention is needed for creative solutions to emerge.” This study is the first to demonstrate the effect alcohol has on creative problem solving.

It’s important to note, however, that while alcohol may boost creativity, make people more relaxed, and help them see the bigger picture, it also plays havoc with physical and mental health when consumed in excess. For example, excessive alcohol consumption is associated with:

  • Unintentional traffic injuries and deaths, drowning, and firearm injuries
  • Partner violence and child abuse
  • Pregnancy issues, such as miscarriage, stillbirths, and fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Increased risk of certain cancers
  • Liver diseases, including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis
  • Depression, anxiety, and suicide
  • Dementia, stroke, and other neurological problems
  • Unemployment, family problems

If you’re looking for ways to boost your creativity, there are more sober ways to do it. Whether you have writers’ block, are having difficulty starting a project, need new ideas for a work assignment, or just need a new creative outlet, you might try:

  • Meditation
  • Brainstorming with others
  • Changing your habits: work in a new location, break up your routine, get out of your rut
  • Exercising
  • A new medium: if you write, try drawing for inspiration; if you dance, write down your feelings
  • Journaling

If you think drinking alcohol will make you the next Hemingway or Charles Bukowski, you might heed the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said: “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” Drinking alcohol may make you more creative, but it can also make you drunk and have a negative impact on your health and your future.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Jarosz AF et al. Uncorking the muse: alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition 2012 Mar; 21(1): 487-93

Image: Wikimedia Commons