Why Writers Drink — and This One Doesn’t

Alcohol offers a devil’s bargain: inspiration through disinhibition, at the cost of a few I.Q. points, maybe even an early grave. Why are writers, more than other artists, so willing to take that risk?

Mark Dery
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readMay 16, 2022


Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, an alcoholic novelist falling off the wagon in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980).

In the small hours of October 25, 2021, I was roused by an agonizing pain just below my sternum. This was no indigestion; I felt as if the leering goblin from The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli was squatting on my torso, walloping it with a meat mallet. Was it a heart attack? The Mother of All Heartburn? The “chestburster” from Alien about to erupt from my thorax, covered in goo and glory?

A blood draw, a sonogram, and a CAT scan later, I was sitting on a gurney in the E.R., waiting for the doctor to render her verdict. Here it came: acute pancreatitis, brought on, most likely, by an overexuberant use of the cocktail shaker. This was sobering news — in the most dispiritingly literal sense, since the only reliable way to minimize the chances of a recurrence was the “immediate cessation of all alcohol intake,” she said, with grim finality. Just like that, the last drink I’d had was the last drink I’d ever have. Now I knew how Marie Antoinette felt when she heard that short…