Drugs, Alcohol and Literature

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan are only a few of the many incredible works that Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in his troubled lifetime. When he lost his father as a young boy and suffered from several health issues in his youth, the solution that was offered to him was opium.

While the drug was initially administered to him in small doses, it slowly made its way into his life and to become a full-fledged addiction. Among other reasons, Coleridge began regularly using opium as an antidepressant and relaxant amongst other reasons. He even admitted to using laudanum, particularly during times of extreme stress and anxiety. Since medicine and research were not nearly as advanced as it is they are today, Coleridge most likely had no idea that the substance that was giving him temporary relief would become an addiction that would spiral out of control.

When marital problems usurped his life and debts became too large for him to pay, opium was the crutch he used to get by. One could expect that the drug would cripple his ability to write completely, putting an end to all of his work. However, Coleridge was at his the peak of his creativity from 1796-1798, during which he is said to have indulged in a drug binge. He testifies that he wrote Kubla Khan after the idea presented itself to him in a dream that he had after taking a generous dose of opium.

Coleridge wasn’t the only writer who miraculously produced his most famous works under the influence of drugs. Robert Louis Stevenson created Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during a six-day cocaine overdose, P.B Shelley wrote while battling a laudanum addiction, Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged while on speed, and many authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway admit to being drunk while putting their renowned writing on paper. It is unfortunate that these writers suffered inevitable deaths due to addiction and some didn’t live to see their works published, but it is nonetheless remarkable that their stories and voices live on even today.

Saakshi is a third-year English Literature and Language major at UBC. She lives, loves, breathes everything related to poetry, children’s picture books and theatre. If she isn’t out in the sun munching on spicy jalapeño chips, she’s curled up in bed with a book, listening to Lorde. Being intensely melodramatic, bitingly sarcastic and hilariously theatrical are her forte.


Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash

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