When it comes to addictions and substance, there’s a work that I’ve just come to loathe: Comorbidity. This means that, in addition to a substance abuse or process addiction issue, a person also shows signs of depression, anxiety, or some other “co-morbid” disorder. Morbid, as it means in this context, is showing signs of a disease. I fully understand and appreciate that addiction and depression and anxiety are all diseases with severe adverse consequences. But, “morbid” also indicates a fascination with death. While untreated addiction will lead to death (and/or prison), I’ve come to believe that among the many root cause theories about addiction, I think I’ve found one that may be a bit different.
First off, I think addiction is a resultant disease. That is, no one starts with an addiction; an addiction develops over time and usually results from all sorts of behaviors and emotional challenges. While the literature is loaded with studies of depression and anxiety’s respective roles in addiction, I don’t see too many documents or studies that talk about, even peripherally, blunted creativity’s role in addiction.
Over the years, some of the most intelligent and creative minds have come to me for treatment of an addiction. The problem is that they either don’t know that they are creative and intelligent or they know but haven’t been able to express their creativity. I think that, from my own experience, that this blunted expression causes an energy buildup, which then creates an unbalanced emotional state. I also find that those who suffer from addictions tend to be more sensitive to life; they tend to pick up on way more signals than those who don’t end up addicted. I think that natural sensitivity coupled with blunted creative expression leads to emotional energy that becomes difficult to cope with. For the sensitive and blunted-creatives, anxiety builds then leads to compulsive desires, this then leads to an addiction because the energy and emotional imbalance has no place to go.
I’ve taught reflective writing workshops in several institutions that house substance abusers. Whether those institutions are jails or prisons or inpatient treatment facilities, I almost always receive overwhelmingly positive responses. It seems that, time and time again, those who attend a workshop have so much emotional energy that they haven’t been able to express built up that I can almost see them purge it onto their notebooks. It’s like their emotional balloons are about to burst, but when given the chance to freely express their feelings through a creative outlet, the balloons literally deflate and empty. Their anxiety levels drop and it almost seems like they can relax, if even only for a short time.
I’m not certain what others might think, but the more I work with people struggling with addictions, the more I see creative and sensitive people who think that there’s something wrong because they feel the way they do. I’m willing to bet that if there was a way to measure innate aspects of humanity, I’m willing to bet that creative expression is as natural part of the human experience as eating. So, I’ll continue to take issue with the word, “Co-morbid” because there’s nothing pathological about creativity.