The Quick 10: 10 Famous People and Their Drug Habits

New book recommendation! Assuming you've already pre-ordered the mental_floss History of the World, that is. It's called Genius and Heroin by Michael Largo, the same guy who wrote Final Exits. Genius is full of stories about famous people and their famous vices - including, but not limited to, heroin.

freud1. Sigmund Freud - cocaine. At first, his interest was purely medical. He wrote papers about the feelings associated with the substance, saying that it provided exhilaration and euphoria just minutes after partaking. Freud's buddy, Ernest von Fleischl, had a pretty bad morphine habit, so to help him kick it, Freud prescribed cocaine as a "safe" alternative. Fleischl became addicted, of course, and was soon spending more than $10,000 per month on the drug. Proving himself to be a good scholar but perhaps not a great friend, Freud recorded his friend's increasingly negative side effects. In 1891, von Fleischl became the first person in history (that we know of) to die of a speedball when he mixed heroin and cocaine. But back to Freud. Though he considered himself a casual user, a three-year period in the mid-1880s produced such a huge body of work on the topic that it's easy to assume he was using pretty regularly.

2. Andy Warhol - Obetrol. Obetrol marketed today as Adderall, a fairly common drug used to treat ADHD. But Andy popped them in true Valley-of-the-Dolls-style. The difference between Adderall and Obetrol seems to be time options - Adderall is made and sold in immediate-release tablets and time-release tablets, but Obetrol comes only in an immediate release option.

3. Miles Davis - Heroin. Miles was hooked on heroin for about four years, but managed to kick the habit because he was inspired by boxer Sugar Ray Robinson's dedication.

4. Balzac - Caffeine.

There are many people (myself included) who get headaches without their morning cup of java (or five). But that's absolute child's play compared to Balzac. He commonly write for 48 hours nonstop, aided by cup after cup of coffee. He drank so much caffeine that it enlarged his left heart ventricle, which possibility contributed to his death. These days, that kind of addiction is called caffeinism. It can result in lots of not-fun effects, including nervousness, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations, ulcers, esophagitis, muscle twitching, and respiratory alkalosis. 

carroll5. Lewis Carroll - Opium. Well, at the time it was called Laudanum, and lots of people took it for minor ailments such as headaches. It's no surprise that lots of people got addicted to it, including Lewis Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson). He suffered terribly from migraines, and some people thought he took it because it relaxed him and helped ease his stutter. Whatever the reason, he was hooked. Carroll also liked to partake in magic mushrooms and weed, too, but you already knew that. Come on, look at Alice in Wonderland.

6. Edith Piaf - everything. Poor Edith Piaf. In 1951, she was in a car accident that left her with a broken arm and two broken ribs. She had two more car crashes afterward, and all of the resulting medication may have done more harm than good: she got hooked on morphine and various pills, in addition to alcohol. She refused to stop performing, though, and pushed herself to carry on with the show no matter what. She even spit up blood while singing at the Waldorf Astoria.

7. Did you guys know Faulkner was a drunk? And so was Fitzgerald? And Hemingway? And Dylan Thomas? And Poe? And Sinclair Lewis? Yeah, of course you did. Seems like alcohol was the drug of choice for a lots of writers. Not just men, either - Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay were also known for their love of the drink.

callas8. Maria Callas - Quaaludes. At the height of her career, Callas abruptly lost an extreme amount of weight. It's rumored that she got hooked on Quaaludes because they helped keep the pounds off, but she always said her weight loss was due to a sensible diet.

9. Truman Capote - Lots of drugs. Capote had a pretty serious alcohol habit during one point in his life, but managed to kick it by taking up drugs. When he died of liver disease, he had barbiturates, Valium, anti-seizure medication, and painkillers in his system.

10. Humphry Davy - Nitrous Oxide. Davy was an important chemist of the 1800s, which explains how he had access to the nitrous. He once inhaled five pints of the gas, promptly fell to the floor and remained blacked out for nearly three hours. He kept trying it, though - you know, for scientific purposes. Davy decided nitrous was better than alcohol because there was no hangover. It's evident from his papers when the addiction truly began - his writing becomes filled with poetic descriptions of the stuff, such as when he suggested that nitrous must be the air in heaven.

October 9, 2008 - 10:26am
submit to reddit