Is religion and alcoholism the same thing

Art and alcohol - Between ingenious intoxication and dangerous excess

Two actors come into a pub. One of them says to the bartender: "Two beers please!" Says the other: "For me too."

The actor can be replaced by any artist in this joke: whether musician, writer or painter - the punch line always works. Because artists are often said to have an unhealthy proximity to alcohol.

For example Amy Winehouse

And indeed: the list of prominent artists who cultivate or have cultivated excessive alcohol consumption is long and includes all genres.

Thriller writer Stephen King is an avowed member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Actor Ben Affleck regularly instructs himself in rehab centers. Singer Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27 - with 4.2 per thousand alcohol in her blood.

In addition, there is the unreported number of (unknown) artists who have not made their addiction public.

Until a few years ago, they included the writer Leslie Jamison. Now the US author has changed this: with her autobiographical book “The Clarity”. In it she writes soberly but insistently about her alcohol addiction.

Alcoholics as a role model

"I drank myself into weightlessness, drank up my courage until I was what Hemingway described as 'schnapps-courageous' [...]," is one of the succinct passages.

The statement makes it clear what Jamison was looking for as a young author in alcohol: a creativity engine that creates literary depth - just as she believed she recognized in several great writers at the same time.

Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe: They all drank excessively. Emulating them also allowed you to legitimize your own alcohol consumption. A seductive constellation.

Just like with sex

Alcohol has a kind of promise of reward. It can trigger a feeling of well-being that is comparable to that of eating or sex. All three actions serve the same center in the brain. This ensures that we are doing well.

Evolution is to blame for this: food intake and sexual intercourse are essential for human survival. So he has to do both. And the more attractive he thinks it is, the more likely he is to do that.

By serving the same center, alcohol also enables “direct gratification”, as Thilo Beck puts it.

Open the person box Close the person box

Beck is the head of psychiatry at the largest outpatient clinic for addiction medicine in Switzerland: the Arud Center in Zurich. Beck deals intensively with alcoholism.

It's a fine line

The psychiatrist Thilo Beck knows how quickly happiness can turn into unhappiness if consumption is not moderate - as with Leslie Jamison. "My drinking definitely had nothing to do with romance", she says in an interview. It was only about getting drunk. Every evening.

How do cultural workers in Switzerland deal with alcohol? At events such as vernissages, premieres or meetings with sponsors, one or two “glasses” - or a lot more - are part of good form.

The stress and pressure of everyday life as an artist must also be relieved somewhere. In addition, alcohol may offer the necessary relaxation that allows creativity to sparkle.

Good for the nerves

The first one we interview is Alexander Kaimbacher. He has been on the opera stage for 20 years, currently in Zurich. And that "sober", as he emphasizes.

This statement is not surprising. Opera singers practically engage in high-performance sport. What makes you sit up and take notice, on the other hand, is the ritual after a performance: the Austrian drinks a bottle of red wine at a time.

He does that during dinner. But Alexander Kaimbacher admits that that is a lot. His mother always scolded him.

But he needs this amount to relax: "The wine is like an oil that gets over your nerves." The next evening, he could easily achieve top performance again.

Drink against the pressure

Sinéad O’Kelly, a colleague of Kaimbacher's at the Zurich Opera House, made a bet with friends and family two months ago. She tries to give up alcohol for a year. The Irish woman wants to test how her health and, above all, her voice are changing.

"I've drunk alcohol repeatedly to relieve stress after a long week at work," says the singer, "or to cope with the pressure." Addiction expert Thilo Beck can understand that.

The burden of having to prove oneself in front of an audience on a regular basis cannot be shared with anyone, says Beck. It is therefore obvious that one or the other would consider reaching for the glass as an option to combat fear of failure. After a certain dose, alcohol has a sedating effect: alcohol calms you down.

Exceptional phenomenon of teetotalers

Because of her bet, Sinéad O’Kelly inevitably uses sparkling water at celebrations today - and thus accepts having to explain herself. She finds it difficult to go without alcohol on certain occasions. Especially since the drinks are free and plentiful.

In the eyes of the Irish woman, however, abstinence pays off: "My voice sounds clearer." She therefore intends to reduce her consumption after the bet expires.

She doesn't want to give up alcohol entirely. "I really miss my Irish whiskey," says the opera singer with a laugh.

No alcohol on stage

So is the stereotype of the intoxicated artist right? Martin Butzke from Theater Neumarkt in Zurich relativized. There's an after-work beer in there, says the actor. You should also be intoxicated.

The strict, well-timed working day does not allow excessive drinking at all. “Contrary to the general cliché, actors don't spend their mornings in bed, but on the rehearsal stage,” says the 44-year-old from experience.

Butzke does not believe that alcohol consumption among cultural workers is more pronounced "than among emergency physicians, university professors or truck drivers".

Between unleashing and prohibition

Conditions that lead to stress encourage alcohol consumption. According to research, shift workers, alcohol-related professions such as landlords or those who largely lack social control, such as truck drivers, are particularly at risk.

Alcohol addiction runs through all walks of life. It affects craftsmen and managers. It cannot be said whether workers in the cultural scene are more at risk of addiction than other professional groups. There are no studies on this.

However, psychiatrist Thilo Beck sees cultural workers as “an impetus to want to free themselves from social norms”. They strived to push boundaries - including their own. An obvious option to achieve such an “unleashing” are mind-expanding substances.

According to Beck, they can enable intellectual connections that would be "censored" in a sober state. That is an opportunity, but also a risk.

Failure as a cult

The ingenious artist who climbs to new levels of his work in a frenzy: that can be an attractive scenario for some. Especially since those who are sensitive and live close to the abyss are often considered particularly talented.

That fascinates, is linked to an intense existence. This is how even failed existences achieve cult status.

Actor Martin Butzke is convinced: The image of the drinking artist can exert great attraction - especially on young people who “dream of the party life of a rock star”.

But he emphasizes that reality is more sober - literally.

Hidden power

Heinz Helle thinks in the same direction. The writer believes that with the help of alcohol it is possible to cast “a kind of glimpse” at “a hidden force or energy”. That is "inspiring" - especially when you share this experience with other people: over a beer together, for example.

However, it doesn't help him to write under the influence of alcohol, says the German author. To do this, he needs a clear head.

Deadly addiction

Helle recently published a novel about two smooching brothers - one of whom is a heavy alcoholic.

This sensitive story, which he tells in “Overcoming Gravity”, is given an additional touching note by a sad fact: Helle's brother himself died as a result of an alcoholic disease.

Book as part of the rescue

The author Leslie Jamison was spared this tragic end. She realized that she was about to ruin her life. And turned to Alcoholics Anonymous. In this way she was able to free herself from what she felt was a “permanent obsession” with having to drink.

However, it wasn't until the second attempt that the American managed to leave the addiction behind. Your book “The Clarity” became “part of my healing process”. It helped Jamison "sort" her own story. And to find “consolation and enlightenment” in the drinking biographies she was confronted with during her work.

Intoxication without alcohol

As with Jamison's writing, artistic creation can develop its own pull, which increases when the audience is carried away.

This is what opera singer Alexander Kaimbacher says. The mere awareness of being able to work with colleagues in a “great” job that is well received makes them “drunk”. He doesn't need any "additional funds" during the performance.

The artist, of all people, who drinks a bottle of red wine after every performance to relieve tension, emphasizes: "You can experience intoxication without any alcohol."

It is undoubtedly the healthier form of gratuity. No joke.