Was Edgar Allan Poe really a drug addict?

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I'm doing a school repotr on Edgar Allan Poe and his work, I need to know if he really was a drug addict and if his cause of death was ever found out?

-- Anonymous, March 08, 2000


I'm no authority on the subject, but it seems to me that he was an alcoholic. And from reading some of his stuff, I'd say he probably used drugs too (look at how his characters act in Ligea and other works when depressed - drug use).

As for his death.... it seeems that it has most commonly been attributed to alcohol withdrayal symptons (I don't know if that's really deadly), but I just read something which convinced me that he died of rabies.


-- Anonymous, March 08, 2000


I too, profess no extraordinary expertise nor scholarship related to the life or works of Edgar Allan Poe. As a result of my original introduction to the works of Poe at the age of twelve, my interest was limited to his poems and short-stories. During this pre-teen and early teenage exposure to the likes of The Raven, Annabel Lee, Eldorado  and The Tell Tale Heart and others, I too felt it was logical to assume that the writer, Mr. Poe, was, at worst, a demented and strange little man, ghoulishly consumed by the dark side. At best, I saw him as an eccentric writer of sad and scary stories that I just happened to enjoy. Frankly, at the time, it mattered little to me whether he was living or deceased, sane or mad, good or evil nor whether he was given to excess or of pristine puritan character. I was much too self involved to care one way or another.

Then in middle school, forced by class requirements to read, summarize and critique The Gold Bug, my attitude was radically altered by the story and by my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Mary Elliott. While I had always retained an interest in his work, by the end of this short-story, I found I wanted to know and understand the man. A magnificent instructor and devoted Poe admirer herself, Mrs. Elliott encouraged and assisted in my exploration into the world of Edgar Allan Poe. This life long passion has persisted unabated and today, forty-one years later, I continue to read and re-read his work with undiminished enthusiasm.

The years have also significantly modified my view of Poe, his works, his life and, most relevant here, the affect on his work by the events of his life. I have and will always maintain that a sense of Poe, the man, can be found throughout his writing. I would never presume to argue this point. However, what I no longer hold as factual or accurate is the myopic view that his poems and stories should be seen as parallels to the events, conditions and circumstances of his short lifetime. The historical material available; and it is substantial, simply does not support this view. Perhaps it is as Alexander Pope (1688 to 1744) said.. What thin partitions sense from thought divide!

As I have indicated in this forum before, with the exception of his inherent genius and complete mastery of the language, Edgar Allan Poe differed little from his contemporaries. Poe suffered the same frailties, fears and foibles that has confronted man since his existence and, in large measure, exist today.

Was Poe an drug user or an addict? That Poe had consumed opium at some time during his brief life is probably correct. After all, opium has been around for about 6,000 years and the poppy that renders this drug was referred to in ancient Summerian text as the Joy plant. During the Victorian era, opium was dissolved with alcohol in a laudanum and consumed by all classes, primarily for medicinal purposes. It was used for pain relief and inducing a temporary stupor. It is my understanding that overdoses were not uncommon. I believe I once read somewhere that until early in the 20th century, Coca Cola used opium before they replaced it with caffeine. This may not be at all accurate and I seriously doubt Coca Cola would confirm it. Regardless, there is no evidence to support the contention that Poe was addicted to opiates or other drugs.

What about some of his stories, surely, these are convincing evidence of his habitual use of drugs and addiction. some say! Lets not be obtuse here! No, it is not convincing nor is it evidence! Is the poem The Jabberwocky clear evidence that Lewis Carroll was an idiot? Does H. G. Wells book The Time Machine provide clear evidence he was a time traveler? Does the story Frankenstein clearly demonstrate that, Mary Shelly, a pretty young woman from the early 19th century, prowled the dark of night, collecting body parts for reconstruction. Does Moby Dick, in any way, infer that Herman Melville had a wooden leg? Give Edgar a break!

Was Edgar Allan Poe an alcoholic? There is evidence that Poe often drank in excess and too much for his own good. Edgars introduction to alcohol was most likely during his short stay at the University of Virginia in 1826. However, Poes name does not appear on the disciplinary logs of the school and Among the Professors he had the reputation of being a sober, quiet and orderly young man. (William Wertenbaker in 1868, The Poe Log, p.76; EAP Society of Baltimore). During Poes enlistment in the U. S. Army, he rose to the rank of Sargent Major and was thought of by his commander as clear in his deportment.

To a large degree, his on again, off again ordeal with the spirits seems to indicate sporadic bouts of drinking as opposed to the view that Poe indulged in long successive drinking spells and drunkenness. That his drinking cost him personally holds little doubt. That he sincerely regretted this affection, less doubt.

Did his problem with alcohol affect his writing? Well as I indicated in the beginning, I am certainly no expert. Regardless, I can and will say that I have never read any poem, tale, critique, essay, lecture note or personal correspondence executed by the hand of Poe that would lead me to believe that he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of its commission. His brilliance; his clarity of thought; his verbal illustrations; his descriptive character and setting construction; his verbal manipulation of the readers senses and his unparalleled command of the language simply does not waver and its consistent execution is inconsistent with persistent intoxication.

As to his death as a result of rabies. I also read the story of the diagnosis by Dr. R Michael Benitez for the Maryland Medical Journal, XLV, September 1996. Honestly, my laymans opinion is left wanting and, frankly, I would like another opinion. Certainly, I mean no disrespect to Dr. Benitez, for my bag of medical experience is vacuous at best. However, I am terribly troubled by possible, even probable assumptions and presumptive interpretations of 19th century symptoms, as noted by Dr. Moran in 1849, by 20th century doctors in 1996. I simply feel there is insufficient depth to the medical review to come to a reasonably affirmative conclusion. In my view, this diagnosis is merely a 150 year old best guess.

Prior to his death, Edgar Allan Poe was on his way to New York to retrieve Maria Clemm, his aunt and mother of his deceased wife Virginia, and return her to Richmond for his wedding to Sarah Royster Shelton, scheduled for October 17,1849. He was also working diligently to get his longtime dream for his own literary magazine, The Stylus, off to a good start. He was said by some to be in possession of $1500.00 worth of prepaid subscriptions prior to leaving Richmond. During his stay in Richmond, he was noted as being in good health and enthusiastically busy lecturing and editing for a Richmond magazine. He was also noted as being in good health when he boarded the boat in Richmond at 4 a.m. on the morning of departure. Currently, I tend to subscribe to the Cooping Theory but have not, at all, discounted the Alcohol Theory. As for rabies, I see it as an interesting idea but I would like to hear more, much more.

-- Anonymous, March 10, 2000

I think that Poe used drugs, perhaps sporadically, throughout his life. I don't think that he wrote anything significant under the influence of drugs... the psuedo-creativity inspired by drugs isn't consistent with Poe's complex and brilliant use of English. His writing suggests drug use to me simply by virtue of his apparent affection for drugs.


-- Anonymous, March 12, 2000

Yes in some form he was.

-- Anonymous, March 28, 2000

I can't be sure, but froma number of sources, i believe Poe was not an alcoholic or a drug user. It is possible that Poe was strongly effected by alcohol in general, but not a common user of it. The cause of his death I am still not sure off, but quoting from "the Man Who Called Himself Poe" (moskowitz) "The story that he had been taken druknken or drugged to pooking places by repeaters , though widely related, is a hoax," regarding his death.

-- Anonymous, April 01, 2000

If you read any of the biographies on poe you would know that he was not a drug addict(at least they didnt say it) but he was an alcholic thats why in many of his works of literature such as the black cat you can see that him and his character the first narrator have many things in common such as the abuse of alchohol the only difference that what poe potryed his charcters as is things that he wanted to do but couldnt bring himself to do!

-- Anonymous, April 13, 2000


I have read his biography and not just one, there are many available and I have been reading them and his works for about 40 of my 53 years. Now that doesn't necessarily make me an authority but I have to say here that I respectfully disagree with your assessment.

I do not disagree that Edgar abused alcohol or, perhaps, even that he was an alcoholic. What I do disagree with is that his "alleged" alcoholism was so clearly evident in or can be substantiated by merely reading his stories. It was fiction after all!!! Are we to surmise after reading "Moby Dick" that Herman Melville had a wooden leg? Of course not!

I would never argue that a sense of the man, Edgar Allan Poe, can be found throught his writing. It is this that so clearly demonstrates his unparalleled genius. However, his stories are not a parallel to his life!


-- Anonymous, April 13, 2000

Poe was not a drug user, not in the classical sense at least. He was a writer, which means he was an alcoholic.

-- Anonymous, October 01, 2000

Well I'm only an 11th grader, but we are working on this in class. Poe in fact was not a drug user. He had a depression syndrom of which I'm not sure of the name, and the doctor prescribed opium. He also had a disease with alcohol, so a glass of wine could have done to him what about 10 glasses or more could have done to someone else. So on election day he was taking the train home, and when he got there, a few gentlemen offered him a drink if he would vote for their candidate because the voting took place in the bars, and they took him around to all these different bars and I'm not sure what happened after that... Hope some of that helps a little.

-- Anonymous, November 05, 2000

But arent there rumors going around that he was a frequent user of opium?

-- Anonymous, February 23, 2001

Oh yeah he was definitly the kind of guy you always took out because one beer and he was trashed so you didn't have to spend a lot of money at the bar. As for his opuim use he wrote all of his stories on it. Uppers, downers, all arounders, you name it he was on it.

-- Anonymous, March 07, 2001

Poe was not a drug addict. For more information on this subject, go to www.eapoe.org/geninfo/poealchl.htm. I hope this is helpful.

-- Anonymous, May 15, 2001

Would someone kindly tell "Tis" that to call yourself "no expert" on Poe, ad nauseum, and then procede to give a rambling, pretentious, unevenly-researched, and generally fucking annoying summation of his life and works...is to appear a pompous, pedantic geek. I see you as some sort of lower-middle class dullard, probably at least 50 lbs. overweight, unmarried, addicted to poorly-written "works of fantasy" and masturbation. This is the only way you can feel validated:by giving such a smug, condescending, and error-laden answer to a highschool student's simple question. Get a life, loser.

-- Anonymous, July 10, 2001

The short answer to the question is a resounding "NO!" There is no reason to think that Poe was a drug addict. (Popular opinon on the matter is irrelevant. The idea that Poe was a drug addict and wrote under the influence of opium is not supported by the historical record.) The person who calls himself/herself "Hyrionimous" seems to take umbrage at the post left by "Tis." If it is so laden with errors, by all means point out a few.

-- Anonymous, July 10, 2001

Tis, as usual, has provided some coherent and accurate posts. Rufus Griswold, Poe's American literary executor, is primarily to blame for Poe's besmirched reputation in the U.S. Upon his death, Griswold smeared Poe's reputation in an attempt to gain public interest in Poe's works (i.e., to make a buck off of Poe's works). Charles Baudelaire, French biographer, provided a much more accurate depiction of Poe. In large part, it is because of the accounts of these two men that to this day, Poe has received a much more favorable reception in France and Europed than in the U.S. After Poe's death and the subsequent "stories," George Bernard Shaw wrote that he doubted Poe drank as much in his entire lifetime as the average American writer drank in six months--a left-handed compliment, of course, but one that (along with other evidence refuting Griswold) indicates that Poe may not have actually been the 'drunkard' Griswold painted him to be.

-- Anonymous, July 10, 2001

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-- Anonymous, October 02, 2001

I was doing some research for my lanuage arts class in class today and it claims he was also a alcoholic and a user of opium.I believed that Edgar Allen Poe died from being a chronic alcoholic and a user of Opium.That's is how I think Edgar Allen Poe died.

-- Anonymous, October 03, 2001

i would like to have sex with his mom!!!!

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2001

I think that Edgar Allan Poe did use drugs. I believe this because in his poem "The Slepper" He says the moon is opiate with a shimmering dewy glow. Opiate means any drug having opium in it. He deffenitly did opium at the least.

-- Anonymous, February 08, 2002

he was known for using opium sparatically during his life not frequently... and it took 147 years for reserchers to conclude that he died of rabies.... at least thats what they think.... it is also thought of that he died from a withdraw of alcohol...

-- Anonymous, February 27, 2002

The rumors can be true. The writings of Edgar Allen Poe can be closely compared with symptoms of drug abuse. His characters were overly nervous and usually had quite acute senses. I believe that since it can be said that true writers "throw themselves into" their work, it is possible that in one instance or another Poe coincided his feelings into his work. (Thus, bringing forth his drug use.) This can certainly leave his writing to be confusing, or viewed as brilliant. Honestly though, what does it really matter if Poe used drugs or not? The end result is the same. Poe's writing remains; untouched by time or rumors.

-- Anonymous, April 07, 2002

What did Poe die of? Poe was found next to a polling booth, in a state of semiconsciousness wearing cloths that didn't belong to him next to a polling booth, not far from a bar. When Poe left to travel to New York, he had as much as $1,500 on his person; when he was found, there was none, suggesting he was mugged and beaten. He was taken to a hospital where he died. What he died from will always be a mystery.

-- Anonymous, October 10, 2002

Everyone speculates about Poe's unfortunate death, however, based on his life and his strange behavior, it is obvious that Poe was either affected by his mental state or drug abuse. It is important to remember that documentation of Poe is not valid in many cases. In addition, his work was not appreciated like it is now. If he lived today, he would be a millionaire and his life would be documented. Furthermore, nobody can say what really happened, but his writing during the 19th century was quite different in comparison to what was the norm. In short, his brilliance was relatively unoticed and not taken seriously. Everyone has their own speculations, the fact is, Poe's bizzare behaviour and or drug addictions can best be read through his many works.

-- Anonymous, November 06, 2002

For Goodness sake! You can't prove one single thing for Poe never had an autopsy done! So why are we even assuming things. Let's just wait till we have built a time machine and can go back and find out what happened to him from that!

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2002

this is to the people that wrote in wanting to know what poe died of. yes he did use opium, and it probably helped kill as well. the disease he had was no help either. Poe had no self control when it came to drinking. Although he did get drunk, reportedly, after drinking just one beer.Poe was taken to a hospital in 1947 where he died of acute congestion of the brain, i will get get back to you all on a better name for this condition.

-- Anonymous, January 07, 2003

Yea, Poe's mom was definitely a hottie. She had enormous breasts, strong, muscular thighs, and a waste just thick enough to use the sides of her pelvis as handlebars. I'd like to break my dick off in her tight, swollen ass.

-- Anonymous, March 20, 2003


-- Anonymous, April 03, 2003

Get some sense.

-- Anonymous, May 12, 2003

I love Edgar Allen poes work, its genius. Weither he was a opium addict or not doesnt matter to me, hes THE BEST poet i have ever had teh pleasure of reading his poems. HES A GENIUS WETHEIR HE WAS A OPIUM ADDICT OR NOT. AM I WRONG?

-- Anonymous, September 12, 2003

Fill with mingled cream and amber, I will drain that glass again. Such hilarious visions clamber Through the chamber of my brain. Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies Come to life and fade away. What care I how time advances; I am drinking ale today.

-- Anonymous, October 07, 2003

If there is any person out there with the REAL answer, please let me know.

-- Anonymous, October 10, 2003

yes he was and i stuck it in his moms mouth over and over

-- Anonymous, October 14, 2003


-- Anonymous, October 29, 2003

If anybody has some REAL answers I would love to hear from you.

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2003

On October 7, 1849, one of America's most gifted and mysterious writers died from excessive nervous prostration affecting the brain and resulting from exposure, encephalitis or inflammation of the brain . . . a condition a physician of today might prefer calling it lobar pneumonia, complicated by transient retardation or depression.

Although some speculated his death was caused by excessive alcohol consumption, Poe suffered from a weak constitution and intolerance to alcohol.

-- Anonymous, November 24, 2003

Though I am young and have recently fallen in love with the works of Poe, I gather, from my own readings, that Poe did, at some point, fall under the influence of opium. In numerous pieces of Poe's work, there is some underlying message of drug infuence. If Poe wasn't somehow influenced by opiates, why are there so many drug references in his work? Tis earlier argued that we cannot assume that Herman Melville had a peg leg because his work featured a character with one. This is true, but Herman Melville's work did not consistently carry a connotation of one-legged characters. Also, I personally think that it would take more first hand experience to write about drug use, than it would to fashion a character with a peg leg. And Tis, I don't see why you're so resistant to other people's perceptions because the evidence is lacking. There is no evidence that time exists, for it is only a method of measurement for illusive states of being, but we still fall back to it. I'm not trying to argue with you, because you are 53 and I am 14 and you will surely use overly elaborate language in order to defeat me and boost your confidence, but honestly, who are you to tell everyone they're wrong? They're just expressing opinions. No, we don't know exactly how Poe died, and we don't know exactly how the Universe formed either, but there are a few accepted theories and, although the evidence does not come right out and say "Poe was an opium addict", supporting details can be found, if searched for.

-- Anonymous, December 02, 2003

Although Poe may have been given to occasional binge drinking, though this is unclear scholars recognize now that the drug addict image is a false portrayal of Poe, created as a smear by the executor of his estate and furthered in public perception by 1) a confusion of Poe with his characters and 2) the romanticized madman image mistakenly forwarded by the writings of Baudelaire.

There are plenty of sources available on any of this. The most important thing is avoiding outdated scholarship that still depicts Poe as a crazy opium fiend. And be careful not to confuse biography with scholarship. Poe is not his characters. The man was generally a buttoned-down magazine editor, not a junkie.

No one knows the cause of his death, but there has been specualtion about rabies.

-- Anonymous, December 02, 2003

in a passage from one of his short stories (life in death) he writes I had never swallowed opium before laudanum and morphine had used occassionally,and about them should have no reason to hesitate i would take a small dose and would repeat it untili should find an abtement of the fever.this suggests drug use,he used the drug opium for medical purposes but developed an abuse.its nver really been determined what the cause of death was but its likley drugs and alcohol con tributed.

-- Anonymous, January 09, 2004

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