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20 Genius Minds and the Drugs They Were Addicted To

Intelligence doesn’t preclude people taking drugs any more than fame does. When those who are under stress need to relax, some turn to drugs or drink as an escape from reality. Others do it because they believe it enhances their creativity or allows them to stay awake when needed. Of course, some go nuts and cut off their ear in a drunken rage. Just because you are a genius doesn’t mean you’re sensible.

1. Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley was one of the preeminent magicians of the early twentieth century, along with being a cultist, poet, and mountaineer. He was Victorian England’s bad boy, and he rebelled against so-called polite society. Naturally this involved taking large quantities of drugs, including heroin, mescaline, cocaine, solvents, and more cocaine. This doesn’t include the usual gamut of alcohol and cannabis, either. He described his experiences as being magic. Crowley was less accepting of other people, however, once stating that Jews were only one step above cannibals.

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2. Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is in part responsible for the idea of a white Christmas, of all things, but his main vice lay in a much darker substance: opium. The man who brought us A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield would retire at the end of a long day writing to puff on a hookah filled with poppy latex. He died of a stroke, which may have been caused partially by opium use.

3. Ernest Hemingway

By Lloyd Arnold

Ernest Hemingway might well be one of America’s top authors and journalists of the early to mid-twentieth century. He even won a Nobel Prize for his work. However, alcohol would be a constant companion, particularly in his later years. He perhaps summed up what every writer has known: “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” Drinking likely exacerbated a medical condition he had that led to mental confusion and depression. Hemingway eventually took his life.

4. Edgar Allan Poe

By Unknown

Edgar Allan Poe is considered a major figure in the American Romantic movement, and he is famous for his poems and stories, many of which dealt with the macabre. “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore'” is perhaps one of the most well-known refrains from a poem. Like Hemingway after him, he had a major addiction to alcohol, using it to dull the pain of a stressful life that often saw him beset with financial and personal problems. His death remains a mystery, however, as it happened in very odd circumstances.

5. Howard Hughes

By Acme Newspictures

Whether Howard Hughes was addicted to opiates remains a matter of contention. However, he did take a lot of opiates throughout his life, perhaps to quell his mind initially. However, numerous crashes in experimental aircraft took their toll on his health, and he started injecting opiates into the muscle. There is no doubt he was a genius, however; he helped design numerous aircraft, created and directed a number of films, and even made a prototype hospital bed that was the basis of those used today. He eventually became a recluse.

6. John Lilly

John Lilly focused on the emerging science of consciousness in the 1950s, and he started off with sensory isolation-aided by a dark tank that was soundproofed, so subjects could float in complete isolation. This research on consciousness was expanded to include drugs in the 1960s, and he quickly started experimenting with LSD and ketamine. He also claimed to speak with dolphins and tried to teach them a language. This use of LSD would affect his work substantially during this period, and it left him ostracized from his peers who were conducting work in a normal manner. Scientist have tried to replicate his work with dolphins and have consistently reported “difficulties.” In short: Lilly’s work was partially based on his drug use.

7. Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain is perhaps famous for his unintelligible style of singing as for his influence on the grunge scene. Let’s be honest: how many people can understand all the lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit? His use of heroin worried people, though, and in 1994, he joined the 27 club: a litany of stars who have died at the age of 27 due to suicide, alcohol, or drug use. In Cobain’s case, it was suicide, presumably exacerbated by his heavy heroin habit. Nirvana split up soon after.

8. Marilyn Monroe

By Corpus Christi Caller

Marilyn Monroe is legendary for her stage performances, and she’s often cast as a blonde bimbo. The bimbo had a brain, and she knew how to use it. Unfortunately, barbiturates were her undoing, and they may have contributed to her overdose. She was also known for doctor shopping—where a patient goes to multiple doctors to get the same prescription drugs—and her alcohol consumption. It seems implausible that her death was due to any conspiracy; all the hallmarks of addiction were there and, in many ways, it was sadly inevitable.

9. Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick wrote dozens of novels about his own experiences of paranoia, schizophrenia, and drug abuse. His most famous novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was turned into a major film, Blade Runner. Total Recall, Minority Report, and Next were also based on books of his. He was known for taking drugs, particularly amphetamines. He also reportedly had a religious experience while on Darvon. Either way, his drug use brought about numerous incredibly well-written novels, but he paid for it with his health. He suffered a stroke at the age of 53.

10. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer who produced rousing orchestral scores such as the 1812 Overture and delicate operas such as Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. Russia in the late nineteenth century was a bit of a dismal place, and alcohol rapidly became Tchaikovsky’s crutch. He also struggled with depression throughout his life.

11. Robert Downey Jr.

By Gage Skidmore

Robert Downey Jr. was perhaps the ultimate junkie, hooked as he was on pretty much everything. After the success of Chaplin in 1992 and Natural Born Killers, he started partying hard, eventually being arrested multiple times between 1996 and 2001. He admitted to smoking crack, trying heroin, and pretty much doing every single drug under the sun. Still, he eventually managed to clean up his act, and we look forward to him reprising the role of Iron Man. Or something equally amazing.

12. Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Georgian and Victorian poets have a reputation for being rather hedonistic, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge was no exception. He’s famous for his poems, particularly Kubla Khan and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but his opium habit shocked society when it was revealed in 1822. He reportedly suffered from anxiety, leading many to speculate that he had bipolar disorder, and he would self-medicate with opium or laudanum. He even wrote about suffering withdrawal symptoms when he ran out. However, this merely glamorized the use of drugs at the time, and he implied he was a poet whose inspiration relied on drugs.

13. Sigmund Freud

Max Halberstadt

Sigmund Freud was a great proponent of cocaine, recommending its use for numerous diseases and symptoms. Freud was aware of cocaine’s uses as an anesthetic, but he also claimed it cured a friend’s morphine addiction—one that was demonstrated not to be true a few months later. Freud would also regularly take cocaine for depression and migraines. One good thing may have come out of Freud’s drug use: he created psychoanalytic theory while high, which explains a number of his assertions. However, this spurred research into psychiatry and psychoanalysis, which forms the basis of modern mental health.

14. Stephen King

By “Pinguino”

Stephen King is one of the foremost writers in the world, and he used a huge cocktail of drugs to get there. While most people use one or perhaps two drugs, King used cocaine, Xanax, Valium, NyQuil, beer, tobacco, and marijuana to get him through the day. His family eventually staged an intervention, dumping all the evidence of his addiction in front of him. He would later say that he doesn’t even remember writing some of his books; he was that much off his face.

15. Ulysses S. Grant

By Brady-Handy
Photograph Collection

Being the president of an entire country must be stressful; being the second one after Lincoln and the civil war must’ve been even harder. Ulysses S. Grant, however, was no stranger to alcohol—he’d already been repeatedly disciplined while in the army for drinking to excess. During the Civil War, he rose to prominence as a leader, although one prone to occasional binges when he was defeated. However, his later years and the presidency saw few of the binges seen in the 1850s. Perhaps he was too busy.

16. Vincent van Gogh

By Victor Morin Artiste

Vincent van Gogh is a well-known painter who was beset with numerous health issues throughout his life. His paintings such as Starry Night and Sunflowers sell for millions on the open market, but throughout his life, he was a penniless artist. His chronic alcoholism, particularly with the notorious absinthe, would exacerbate his condition, although what condition he had is a matter of debate. Either way, it’s generally agreed that his infatuation with liquor didn’t help him, and he died after shooting himself in the chest.

17. William Wilberforce

By Karl Anton Hickel

William Wilberforce is perhaps best known for being the leader of movement to abolish the slave trade in Britain, but this social reformer wasn’t without his flaws. His use of opium was originally used to relieve the pain of gastrointestinal distress, but in many ways, it would exacerbate the condition. Ironically, the opium that provided him with pain relief would be grown by slaves in many cases.

18. Winston Churchill

By J. Russell & Sons

Winston Churchill is pretty much the face of World War Two Britain. He was notorious for drinking whisky, although to say that he was an addict might be a misnomer. He did, however, take amphetamines repeatedly to be able to stay up and plan the war. His resilience inspired many, but he paid for it with his health. The Allied forces won the war, however, although at an appalling cost.

19. Sherlock Holmes

By Siddharth Krish

Fictional characters don’t have it easy either, and Sherlock Holmes was one of them. A recent study estimates Holmes’ IQ at 190, well above genius level. Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, gave him a major cocaine addiction—so much so Conan Doyle wrote that Holmes kept a special syringe with which he would inject a 7 percent solution of cocaine when he felt understimulated.

20. Dr. Gregory House

Finally, a more contemporary character is Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie. His use of hydrocodone, normally in the form of Vicodin, is as legendary as his disheveled appearance and his limp. There is no doubt that House is a genius, but he was certainly a flawed one. With numerous parallels to Holmes, House charmed us on screen, although it’s a bit of a departure from Hugh Laurie’s usual roles.

Alcohol and drug addiction certainly won’t make you a genius, but getting help for substance abuse may be the smartest thing you’ll ever do. Call our toll-free advisor hotline at today. You can also check your insurance coverage online now.

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