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Am J Psychother. 1992 Jul;46(3):422-33.

Alcohol as muse.

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  • 1University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City 66160.


It has been argued that American writers do not drink any more than American plumbers. If so, as one commentator said, American plumbing would be a mess. No one can question the fact that American writers in this century have been excessive drinkers. Explanations why this might occur are presented in this paper. Walker Percy locates the problem in the dualing hemispheres of the brain. Others think alcohol is (as Hemingway said) a good way to end the day and shut off the creative process. An historian has proposed that alcoholics are loners, that writers also are loners, and this is why so many writers are alcoholic. Although the argument for this view is persuasive, it does not explain why the United States has so many more alcoholic writers than other countries, or, why the "epidemic" occurred in the twentieth century. Alcohol was largely not a problem for Americans in earlier centuries and, although there have been alcoholic writers in European countries, their numbers never approached a majority. Drinking is the "joy of Russia," but there have been very few alcoholic Russian writers. Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, and Evelyn Waugh notwithstanding, alcoholic writers have not been common in the United Kingdom or Ireland. It is easy to think of reasons why writers drink. It is more difficult to explain why so many drank in this country during this century.

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