More than one in ten Caucasians may have a "Churchill gene" which helps them turn booze into great worksby Philip Hunter / May 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Winston Churchill, the toast of Britian, owed his six volume memoirs to booze
Most people use alcohol as a social rather than creative stimulant, banishing cares with a potation or two after work; lubricating discourse rather than inspiring the intellect. Yet a number of our greatest writers, painters and musicians also seem to have relied on it as fuel for their muse. Winston Churchill claimed it crucial for The World Crisis, his six-volume memoirs, stating: “always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me.” Novelist William Faulkner drank more intermittently, but claimed not to be ab le to face a blank page without a bottle of Jack Daniels. Beethoven fell under the influence in the later part of his creative life. Among painters, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon and many others liked a drop or two while working.
Such figures make alcohol part of the territory of creativity. An exceptional few seemed to thrive on drink, leading to the idea of a “Churchill gene”: where some have a genetic makeup allowing them to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others. Mark Twain endorsed this view saying: “My vices protect me but they would assassinate you!”
No doubt some real genes—especially those with a high expression of alcohol dehydrogenase and tolerance of alcohol breakdown products such as acetaldehyde, the “hangover” chemical—contribute to this theory. Yet until recently science has had little to say about alcohol and the creative process, confining itself to studies of damage, tolerance and addiction. Over the last few years, however, evidence has emerged that some have, if not a Churchill gene, then a creative cocktail gene.
While it does not establish a direct link between alcohol and creativity, the gene suggests alcohol has effects beyond sedation and relaxation. A 2004 study carried out at the University of Colorado found that around 15 per cent of Caucasians have a genetic variant, known as the G-variant, that makes ethanol behave more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behaviour. This variant seems randomly distributed among the population: it emerged through mutation, although the factors affecting its selection remain unknown since, like all genes, it does not operate in isolation. (Probably in an earlier stage of…