The Society for Creative Drinking

Here’s an article which suggests that more than one in ten caucasians are potentially able to convert alcohol into creativity — i.e., that it affects their brain in a way in which “ethanol behave[s] more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behavior.” This statistic that will no doubt delight a number of artists and writers I know, not that they actually need an excuse to drink, mind you. So what do you know: In rare cases, alcohol might actually make you more interesting. Still doesn’t make you more handsome, however.

I’ll not be testing this theory, personally. I may or may not be in the minority for whom alcohol stirs creativity, but family and genetic history strongly suggests I’m in the minority for whom alcohol primarily stirs a desire for a whole lot more alcohol, possibly to the exclusion of eating and bathing. This is not a good thing, and was a primary reason I decided not to drink alcohol when I was younger. I’ve apparently done all right without it so far. Nor do I suggest creative folks take up drinking to see if it helps with the writing; learning how to outline might be more useful, and will keep you from getting into bar fights and/or waking up next to someone ill-advised and/or wrapping the front of your car around a fire hydrant. I’m just trying to be helpful to you.

Fortunately for me, I have my Coke Zero. Sweet, sweet Coke Zero. Jolting the creative centers of my brain with 34.5 mg of caffeine in every single can. It’s like love, in alkaloid form.

68 thoughts on “The Society for Creative Drinking

  1. Yes, I’ve heard it said that caffeine is proof that God loves us. I’m a Diet Mountain Dew man myself.

  2. Well… I kind of do both. Drink a cup of coffee in the morning and one or two drinks after work to decompress… usually gin and tonics. Actually, this was really interesting to me, because I’m super right-brained. I’ve written 265 pages of a novel, and some of the best pages were mid-gin and tonic. But if I had one too many, I fell asleep.

    Cool article. Thanks for posting!

  3. Alcohol does in fact make you more handsome, but only when consumed by others. I wouldn’t be married otherwise.

    Mission Obvious Joke accomplished. Return to base.

  4. I’ve been spooked by enough alcoholic writers that I don’t drink while I’m writing –

    And I happen to be in the minority who gets sinus pain and headaches vastly out of proportion to the alcohol I consume, so I hardly drink even when I’m not writing.

  5. I can not start my day without my two cups of coffee and chickory in the moring!!! If I do, BEWARE THE BEAST!!! I am a diet Dr. Pepper man myself (wouldn’t yoy like to be a pepper to?) I loved those old commercials! I also like coke zero, diet coke (lemon or lime) or when I cheat on my diabetic diet, REAL COKE!!!

  6. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the power of the black can that thoughts acquire speed. The hands acquire jitters. The jitters become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.

    (I love me some Cherry Coke Zero.)

  7. It’s still worth emphasising that for nine out of ten caucasians, alcohol has no effect, or possibly even a counter-acting effect.

    Still, this won’t stop the hipsters in Williamsburg from using this as an excuse.

  8. @Scalzi – Yeah, it was crosslinked onto Reddit and made it to the front page. Same on HackerNews. Sorry, just thought that was where you found it.

  9. So I do love a good scotch. But I must say that with an Irish/Italian/American Indian background, lots of alcohol usually leads to an early demise in my family. I’ll have a scotch now and then, occasionally my best girl and I will have a ‘dance badly to 80′s songs’ night on the town with a few drinks, but mostly, I stick to water. Or coffee for those late night bouts of writing. Oh, but scotch IS my chocolate…

  10. The more creative Russians I hung around with in the USSR were fond of repeating an old saying:

    “Not all Russians are drunks, not all drunks are talented, but all talented Russians … are drunks.”

    Although I must say that in my observation the first statement is true only in an “exception that proves the rule” sense. Damn, did those people drink. ;-)

  11. For me, booze is a pleasure; caffeine is a necessity. I’d regret giving up bourbon, but without that 12-ounce mug of Quartermaine’s Vine Street I’d be a zombie.

  12. Aspertine gives me a fierce headache so it’s coffee, leaded Dr. Pepper, Ginger Ale and the occasional see-through for me. I was a Cherry 7-Up addict until those geniuses decided to change the flavor to “ass”. But, apparently, ass with anti-oxidants! Woopy-crapzola!

  13. Christ, I love coffee. But I’m trying to not exactly give it up, but certainly hugely reduce the intake. I briefly worked in a big-box bookstore with a coffee shop in it, and every time I had a shift starting at 7.30 in the morning – which was often – the only way I could even start speaking was by drinking about a litre of the stuff a day. And when i say a litre, I mean a litre. The stuff was free for the staff, and they gave us very, very big mugs to drink it from.

    However, I have found that by reducing my intake and changing it for other things (mmm, almond tea), on those occasions I *do* drink coffee or coke, I am suddenly THE MOST ALERT AND FOCUSED MAN IN THE UNIVERSE AND I MUST SIT DOWN AT MY COMPUTER AND START WORKING IMMEDIATELY. It gets you like that when you’re not so used to it anymore.

  14. I save my sugar for chocolate, like any sane human, and I won’t consume artificial sweeteners. So no soda. I mainline my caffeine with Peet’s coffee, or if the GERD monster is awake, green tea has to do.

    I never met an alcoholic beverage I didn’t like, unless it came with soda or juice (fresh lime excepted). But since I also come from a line of too-enthusiastic drinkers, I limit myself strictly. Anyway, red wine makes me congested, so I have to stop after two.

    But alcohol increasing the creativity? Uh – no. I’ll just be over here, snoring.

  15. I’ve always enjoyed listening to Dr Dean Edell’s radio program (in midwest, I understand he’s on TV on west coast) who’s a big defender of caffeine, and has the supporting studies to prove it.

    As to the booze; I enjoy a little here and there, but coulda lived with less as a young adult. Hope my kids have better things to do.

  16. Diet Lime Coke when I’m on the clock. Caffeine helps me focus while alcohol makes my creativity drift aimlessly like an unmoored zeppelin.

  17. I don’t do alcohol OR caffeine.

    Not drinking is because I tried it and didn’t like it. I don’t like how I feel (impaired), act (stupid), or think (very little) when drunk. I don’t like not being at the top of my game. Partly this is because I am a control freak. Partly this is residual PTSD—what if I’m suddenly attacked and I’m too drunk to defend myself adequately? Never mind that I’m rather unlikely to be attacked when I’m at a party surrounded by people I’ve known for 30 years. Doesn’t help.

    I have the alkie genes in my family tree, too. My maternal grandfather, o my brothers! was a classic case. They don’t seem to have come down to me, though: I can take it or leave it, and I’m quite capable of drinking in moderation. I just don’t like it.

    I do use alcohol as candy flavorings, though. I love the flavor of Cointreau in a white-chocolate ganache with orange zest, yum!

    The no-caffeine, though, is doctor’s orders. I have a little heart thingie called sinus tachycardia, which means my heart has a good beat but a tendency to rush. I take a little “conductor” med to tell it to slow down, and I’m not supposed to take anything that speeds it up. I ignore this partially, since I take a med for ADHD, but I’m aware that my ticker will wear out earlier because I do this. Caffeine speeds my heart MUCH more than the ADHD med.

    Btw, the “nothing that speeds up your heart” order also includes all decongestants and migraine palliatives. When I get a sinus headache or a migraine, I can use a neti pot or conventional painkillers, but mostly I lie in a dark room moaning.

  18. My family is full of alcoholics, too, along with mental illness. I’ve been able to establish that I’ve inherited exactly none of it. However, I’m pretty sure it does nothing for my creativity. If I start drinking while I’m writing, the chances are that the writing session will turn into a lampshade-wearing session, and the lampshade-wearing will quickly devolve to sleeping. (All in the space of one drink, usually!) So this is not exciting news to me, alas.

  19. I’ve got familly history working against me also. In my case, I noticed a strong desire for more codein-laced cough syrup acter a bad case of Bronchitis put me on the stuff for a week.

    And instantly gave up any thoughts of ever being a recreational drinking or drug user of any kind. That was scary crap, sitting at the lunch table, being fidgety all day – and then finally realizing “YES!!! Give me more medicine!”

    Of course, watching my mom cough up half a lung every day and occasional smell like a homeless wino in the morning helped, too. I will occasionally imbibe in an adult beverage, but 1 drink is always enough.

  20. I suspect the effect is not a more is better thing. When I used to play pool with my friends, we used to talk about the “two beer rule”. While drinking my second beer, I was really pretty good. Sober, or with any more than two, and I was pretty much shit.

    I am fortunate in that though I have alkie genes in my family, I seem to personally have a stop-limit. I definitely drink more than I should, but I really hate the feeling of being out-and-out drunk.

    It’s caffeine I need. Any attempts to stop have failed. And I have to disagree with Johnny@1…if God made caffeine, there wouldn’t be caffeine withdrawal. Fortunately for the careers of me, and I suspect, a lot of other people, caffeine seems to act as a mild smart-drug, not a stupefying one like alcohol.

    It is really funny how people differ. My wife can barely leave any chocolate laying about the house. Me…I can just not get around to finishing a box of sees for a month. My son seems to have gotten that. He saved a chocolate rabbit from Easter for weeks because he didn’t want to break it. It drove my wife insane. She finally had to talk him into eating it just to keep the family peace.

  21. Caffiene good. Coffee good. Coke good.

    Jack and Coke = JACKPOT!!

    Actually, when my boss and I are stressed and under deadlines, we’ve discovered a little Jack goes a LONG way and really does serve to lubricate the thinking process when we’re writing.

  22. Drinking is for AFTER you write. Coke Zero is for during.

    Never did become the alcoholic writer by 40. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a contract now.

    But I’m getting paid more these days.

  23. Hold on folks….

    I think we’ve all missed the big picture here.

    Mr. Scalzi, is this just a cleverly concealed product placement for Coke Zero? Hmmm… what will it be next a picture of John Scalzi with an Apple iPhone or an Amazon Kindle?

  24. It’s really much harder to develop a substance abuse problem than most people think. Drinking of course is always optional, but I have been deeply saddened to see people I love deny themselves opioid pain relievers because they are afraid of getting addicted–when in fact they were never at any risk of such. Joel, I deeply doubt that after a week of using codeine cough syrup in the recommended dosage you developed anything resembling a true addiction. More likely you had simply developed an association between the codeine and its calming effect–as any one would–and wisely chose not to use it for that purpose once your illness had subsided. It’s also very difficult to get addicted to vicodin or other strong painkillers after a surgery or accident. The opioids interact differently with the brain in pain than they do with a brain not in pain. The pain-relieving mechanism is very unlikely to cause addiction, and when it does, it’s more of a physical dependency than a full-blown life-destroying psychological addiction. For example, coming off of opioids you’re quite likely to get diarrhea, because your system has become accustomed to the constipating effects of the drugs, or you will maybe have some insomnia. But you are not necessarily going to find yourself immediately robbing pharmacies to get more when your scrip runs out. This is important because medical science has nothing that is as safe (tylenol and ibuprofin are not very safe) or effective as an opioid drug for pain relief, and uncontrolled pain can cause long term physical and psychological problems.

    The “war on drugs” has left us all with a lot of mistaken and somewhat puritanical beliefs about how addiction happens. Genetics play a role, but the truth is almost everyone has the genetic potential to become an addict. Choices and behavior are what makes the difference.

    (As an interesting factoid, about 6% of caucasians are unable to convert codeine to morphine. I am one of them, so codeine pretty worthless to me.)

  25. It’s not so much that alcohol doesn’t make me creative, it’s that I lose my willpower to write even when I’ve had only a drink or two, so if I’m planning on writing later in an evening and am out at a social occasion, I basically don’t drink.

    Also, my tolerance for alcohol seems to have dropped in a really strange way, in that when I have even two drinks in a short time, my body starts to feel overheated.

  26. Thanks for the link — I’ve always suspected, but folks tell me I’m crazy. Of course, they’ll tell me that anyhow, but now I can cite research!

  27. All Alcohol does to me is make me silly, then dopey, then sleepy.

    OMG – Alcohol is trying to turn me into a dwarf!

  28. Caffiene BAD. (For me.)

    The come down is awful. I feel terrible after it wears off. If I try to avoid the come down, I build up a tolerance, and the main psychoactive effects go away after a time. The withdrawal symptoms are nasty, so you more than make up for skipping the initial come down periods.

    Also, it dehydrates me, which besides having a mildly unpleasant high to begin with, the dehydration sets of my hay fever. So I feel jittery and icky. Caffiene

    Alcohol has similar dehydration problems and worse hangover problems. And the drunkeness is not all that great.

    The worst ones are pain killers, but for entirely different reasons. My body has a disturbing metabolism that chews through pain killers at a voracious rate. And I mean all pain killers–ibuprofen, acetaminophen, novocaine, nitrous, everything. I get double doses of novocaine at the dentist, and still get feeling back part way through getting a filling. I woke up 20 minutes early when I got my wisdom teeth pulled (after which, I didn’t even bother with the vicodin they gave me, I didn’t want to know if it worked, since I can’t just buy it).

    Anyway, after being largely disappointed by drugs, I try to maintain myself at the highest, continuous state possible (the continuous is the kicker). It pretty much means doing all those godawful things that sanctimonious pratts tell you to do, like exercise and eat healthy. Oh, and you have to religiously protect your precious bodily fluids. Nothing is more important than purity of essence. It’s working pretty well for me.

  29. BeVibe:

    Funny, it turns me into Snow White. I wake up next day feeling sleepy and grumpy:)

  30. Wait, wait, wait. Opioid drugs = creativity? Is there some substance to “to play like Bird you gotta do like Bird” that I’m not aware of?

  31. After two and a half decades in the Navy, I’m a highly experienced expert on both alcohol and coffee and their effects on alertness, creativity, and the ability to blow shit up.

    Also, I’m Irish – which gives me certain genetic advantages over other lesser races when it comes to serious drinking.

    Personally, now that I’m retired I like to cut out the fiddling around and just combine things – A couple Irish coffees made with expresso beans, brown sugar, and Bushmills 1608 will keep you drunkenly alert for hours. There is no finer writing aid.

  32. I like drinking, but I find I lose concentration pretty quickly if I drink and try to work on anything.

    JG Ballard, on the other hand, said that at one stage: “I used to have my first whisky at nine am, after I’d taken the children to school,” he remembered, “then I’d have a glass on the hour, every hour. I was never drunk, but I would have a glow all through the day.” (He was raising these children as a single parent, his wife having died in her early 30s leaving three pre-teens – I don’t know in what state he collected the children from school…).

    BTW the article linked to says “Despising the term science fiction, Ballard never used it,” though that’s not true – he did use it: “And I’m very proud that I was a science fiction writer. As I’ve often said, it’s the most authentic literature of the twentieth century”; though obviously he was not keen on the Scalzi/Clarke/Reynolds type of sf, and a lot of his work wasn’t sf at all.

  33. #47 Jeff–You are probably a high metabolizer. Some people have certain metabolic enzymes that are in overdrive, especially P450, which is one of the main all-purpose metabolic enzymes in the liver. You just need higher dosages of all your meds. Staying healthy is a good plan, but if it comes to a medicine you really need, make sure you explain this to your doctor. Sometimes it is possible to go over the recommended dosage for a needed medicine. My mother is just like you. Tiny little woman. Needs massive doses of drugs. The other problem with that is that you get tons of side effects because of the huge quantity of partially metabolized drug bouncing around in your system. High and low metabolizers are major bugaboos for pharma development. (The low metabolizers can get poisoned and die. Not good.)

  34. “A couple Irish coffees made with expresso beans, brown sugar, and Bushmills 1608…”

    Oh, very efficient. That’s marvelous. I may have to add this to my daily routine. As an experiement, to see if it helps the creativity, of course.

  35. I first read the article as “… one in ten crustaceans are potentially able to convert alcohol into creativity” and got REALLY jealous of our crustacean friends.

    Then I saw it was “caucasians” and became REALLY happy. Finally, being a boring white guy is paying off!

  36. I’m a big fan of coffee – having spent time in Italy as an impoverished student I practically lived on it and the kindness of strangers for months, and got some great research done as well. It was while there that I developed a theory that I am keen to test empirically, but not while driving.

    The great minds of the quattrocento, and indeed every great thinker until well into the Enlightenment (and even thereafter – thanks for the Ballard tidbit, youse guys upthread), drank alcohol (not a lot, and not of great quality) first thing in the morning. Christine de Pisan, Jane Austen, The Bard, Michelangelo, Bill from Stratford on Avon – would all have gone through life with what I will now think of as The Ballard Glow. Great thoughts through moderate alcohol consumption. And no stimulants (not as keen to try that … )

    I also love a good red, me. And a glass or two over dinner does make for more and better writing; I think it loosens me up enough to not be too anxious to start, if that makes any sense. More than a glass or two and we hit the territory of diminishing returns, though.

  37. Ethanol acting on the brain like opioids? Too bad about the nasty side effects of alcohol on the liver, gastro-intestinal tract and, er, brain…

  38. @ vian: Historically, lack of safe drink water lead a large part of the populations of Europe, well into the 19th Century, to use all sorts of alcoholic beverages as their daily source of liquids. Beer, wine (mixed or not with water), all sorts of fermented fruit juice, then hard liquor, diluted or not… So, obviously, a lot of the great thinkers and artists of that part of the world, from the Antiquity to the Enlightenment, were also serious drinkers.

  39. John, I’ll inform you that outlines for scripts have very nearly led to fisticuffs several times. Maybe it’s just me, though.

    “NO, THE WEREWOLF ATTACK IS THE BREAK INTO TWO. GODDAMN IT, YOU ARE STUPID.”

  40. Even though I’m adopted, I very much doubt that I have the alcoholic gene. I think I’ve finally used up the alcohol from when my brother (who is not adopted, btw) moved to Wisconsin (and he now lives outside of Chicago, IL) several years ago and I helped him out by taking some of it. I’ll buy something and forget I have it and it will sit in my cabinet for years. But for liquor that’s okay. With wine, I have to consume it within a couple of years so I end up taking it to parties or cons so that I can share it –I just won’t drink it all myself. Of course, now my daughter is of drinking age so I can buy wines that we’ll both drink and that works. My husband doesn’t drink –he had no liking for the taste and so he never bothered –even in college. Dark chocolate, however, is another story. I must have some every day. I keep a bag of Dove dark chocolates around so that I can have one or two (sometimes three) a day. Yes, I’ve learned moderation. As for caffeine, well, I learned a few years ago that I’m sensitive enough that I don’t drink it after 3 pm, unless I want to be up very late or not sleep well. At the Millennicon Karaoke session, I was surprised at how late I was able to stay up –I don’t think I had caffeine after 3 pm –I was just having lots of fun!

  41. I like alcohol and coffee. My tipple of choice is beer, but I’ll drink red wine as well. Stronger booze I’m not fond of. I don’t generally drink much, and only with friends. As for coffee, I prefer decaf, but sometimes coffee with caffeine is necessary.

    As for creative alcoholics, I’m surprised that nobody has come up with this quote from the immortal alcoholic Dorothy Parker:

    “I wish I could drink like a lady
    I can take one or two at the most
    Three and I’m under the table
    Four and I’m under the host.”

  42. Indeed, Irene, although there’s a fair bit of evidence that beer and wine were generally not as strong – beer particularly – as what we drink today. Especially in Australia, where my red of choice, durif, seems to be the object of a competition to see who can cram the most alcohol into a bottle without distilling it; 17%, one we opened at our last dinner party was; and a very fine drop, as long as you weren’t planning to, say, drive. Or cook. Even our beer is quite strong (5-9%, depending) by global standards. But then, those standards include Bud, which I suspect is close to the medieval ideal in strength, if not in taste.

    Whether they were “heavy drinkers” is a matter of debate. Certainly, they drank more than we do, but they also generally drank differently – a mug of ale rather than a bottle, and to quench thirst more often than to get drunk. Smaller quantities at regular intervals throughout the day rather than a bender in the evening.

    But the effects of drinking early, as opposed to drinking large quantities, are what interest me. Wine at lunch improves my productivity and creativity in the afternoon, frex. I have anecdata that a lot of people find this, particularly when combined with a short siesta. Of course, drinking at lunch is increasingly seen as the equivalent of stirring cocaine into your morning coffee, but the effects can’t be debated.

  43. You know, its funny, I didn’t figure out the best way to not become an alcoholic like my parents was to NOT DRINK until I was already well on my way to becoming an alcoholic. At nineteen. But really, diet? Why the ‘diet’. you’re going to die anyway. I’m a fan of regular old Mountain Dew with all the sugar and calories and joy that it brings.

  44. I drink at parties and go to few enough that I figure I’m all right. (The alcoholism gene runs rampant in my family too.) But it definitely doesn’t make me more creative.

    I’m trying to cut back on Coke, which mostly involves me drinking gallons of seltzer water, which tastes like bubbly horribleness but seems to get me drinking less Coke. I think I’d lose ten pounds just by cutting out Coke…if only I could.

  45. I think those scientific types might be on to something. When I have 2-3 beers, I tend to get more done on whatever project I’m working on. When I have 6-8 beers, I tend to get more done on being drunk.

  46. Lately my writing, or editing to be more precise, has become HIGHLY CAFFEINATED. An enormous French press full of the inky black and I am roaring away. Life is good, especially with some whole milk and stevia.

    Can’t do much with liquor though. A beer or two and I get sleepy as well. Witness the VPXII pictures.

  47. I am the Last Tasmanian Badger. I have returned. Thought i was lost in the forums didn’t you. Bah . I laugh at you. No match for mind bullets are your flimsy forum walls. I vouch for Mr Scalzi’s drinking = creativity theory. I was in fact CONCIEVED during such an event. A pure being born of imagination + coffee+ bacardi am I. I have since tried to concieve more after rum but alas being the Last Tasmanian Badger I’m met with shock and screams of terror. Alas.

    I am the last Tasmanian badger. Myth, Legend, Bad Speller and Thing that bumps off things that go bump in the night.

    Quake Mortals.

  48. Well, I am a hispanic male. And I have to say that beer gives me the creativity to create my music and write.

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