Sherlock Holmes"s Addictions

Dr Andrzej Diniejko, D. Litt.; Contributing Editor, Poland

intuitive Arts —> writer —> Arthur Conan Doyle —> Characterization>

Save for the occasional usage of cocaine, he had no vices... — “The Adventure the the Yellow Face”


Sherlock Holmes, the most famous consulting detective in literature, used sometimes cocaine and also morphine come escape, together he said, from “the dull regimen of existence.” This to be nothing unexplained in victor times since sale that opium, laudanum, cocaine and morphine was legal. Victorian users took these dangerous drugs together self-medication and as recreation.

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Holmes"s recreational usage of drugs can be explained in 2 ways. Firstly, he believed that he essential stimulation for his "overactive" brain in periods as soon as he walk not have interesting cases to solve, and also secondly, that did not understand, like most Victorians, the side results of drug use. Apart from drugs, Holmes was likewise a compulsive smoker and also an avid drinker of great alcohols, yet never in excess.

Sherlock Holmes as a cocaine user

The an initial wave that cocaine use arisen in the second half of the nineteenth century (1860-1905). A good number of cocaine enthusiasts, including scientists and also medical practitioners, wrote letters, pamphlets and essays around the miraculous properties of the "divine drug" which excited human being imagination and seemed to be a panacea for many ailments, from toothache to hysteria, work pains, hay fever, and melancholy. Among the most well known late-nineteenth-century cocaine enthusiasm was the young Austrian medical professional Sigmund Freud, who recommended cocaine therapy for miscellaneous ailments consisting of anemia, asthma, syphilis, typhus, and even for treatment of alcohol and also morphine actions (Gootenberg 24). Lester Grinspoon and also James B. Bakalar, the writer of the book about cocaine and also its social evolution, write:

The most famous, ~ Freud, of every the Victorian pundits who used cocaine to be the fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his creator, was a medical professional who practiced for a while together an ophthalmologist. He must have been intimately acquainted v the nature of the drug and also may have used it himself together a stimulant. Dr. Watson, Doyle"s narrator, an initial mentions cocaine in The sign of the Four, published in 1890. At the time Holmes was injecting a 7 percent equipment intravenously three times a day — apparently a rather large dose. Since Watson reports asking, when he observed Holmes v the needle, even if it is it to be morphine or cocaine, Holmes seems to have actually had an ext than one medicine habit. But we hear no an ext of morphine from Watson. In the heart of mock scholarship v which Sherlock Holmes studies space conducted, we can guess the Holmes was one of those addicts who used cocaine to retract from morphine and also simply changed one drug v another. Holmes admitted the cocaine was negative for that physically however found that “transcendentally stimulating and also clarifying to the mind.” However, he did not use it when working on a case, however only come dispel boredom once he had nothing to do. In connection with a later case, “The Yellow Face,” Watson again mentions the occasional use of cocaine as Holmes" only vice. ~ a when he began to view it as more than a casual indulgence. In “The Adventure that the absent Three-Quarter,” which ostensibly took ar in about 1897, he describes a “drug mania” that had threatened Holmes" career. Watson claims to have cured the of it, however says, “The fiend was no dead but sleeping.” In later life, Holmes" only drug habit, prefer Freud"s, was tobacco. <36-37>

In A examine in Scarlet (1887), the novel, which introduced the renowned "consulting detective", Dr Watson, his friend, assistant, and flatmate, is fairly concerned about Holmes"s use of drugs. Nothing might exceed his energy when the working fit to be upon him: however now and also again a reaction would certainly seize him, and for work on end he would certainly lie ~ above the sofa in the sitting- room, hardly uttering a native or relocating a muscle native morning to night. On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, the I can have suspected him of gift addicted come the use of part narcotic, had not the temperance and also cleanliness the his entirety life forbidden such a notion.

For Dr Watson Holmes is no a compulsive medicine addict because he only sometimes injects cocaine, and also such occasional usage was usual practice in victor England. Holmes claims that these drugs wake up his psychic in durations of idleness. The good detective"s cocaine habit is likewise described in the second Holmes novel, The sign of 4 (1890), which begins with the scene once he injects self a seven-percent solution of cocaine.

Sherlock Holmes take it his party from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he changed the breakable needle, and rolled ago his left shirt-cuff. Because that some tiny time his eyes rested kind upon the sinewy forearm and wrist every dotted and scarred v innumerable puncture-marks. Finally, that thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the small piston, and sank ago into the velvet-lined arm-chair through a long sigh that satisfaction.

Holmes"s preferred an approach of acquisition the drug is straight injection. It appears that the was no interested in acquisition cocaine lozenges or drink Vin Mariani, which included cocaine. Holmes disregarded the negative physical side results of cocaine, return he to be probably aware of them.

I suppose that its affect is physically a negative one. I discover it, however, so transcendentally stimulating and clarifying come the mind the its an additional action is a issue of little moment.

Dr Watson, who knows more about cocaine side effects, deplores Holmes"s intravenous medicine use and also warns him the abuse of any type of drug may be jeopardise his excellent career and ruin his health.

“But consider!” I stated earnestly. “Count the cost! Your brain may, as you say, be roused and excited, but it is a pathological and also morbid process, which involves increased tissue change, and also may at the very least leave a irreversible weakness. Friend know, too, what a black reaction come upon you. Certain the game is hardly precious the candle. Why have to you, for a mere passing pleasure, threat the lose of those good powers through which you have been endowed? remember that i speak not just as one comrade come another, but as a medical guy to one for whose constitution he is come some degree answerable.”

Holmes replies that his pharmacodependency outcomes from his "overactive" mind which constantly needs stimulation, one interesting instance to solve, or a psychotropic medicine to dull his senses. Now Sherlock Holmes would certainly be probably diagnosed as having either ADHD, Asperger syndrome, or both.

My mental rebels in ~ stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most elaborate analysis, and I to be in my own appropriate atmosphere. I deserve to dispense then with fabricated stimulants. However I abhor the dull regimen of existence. Ns crave for mental exaltation.

Holmes"s astute logical thinking did not aid him in his society skills. Uneven Dr Watson, Holmes was antisocial and asexual. He wanted logic come emotions. He was a misogynist and also lacked empathy v people. In “The Adventure the the missing Three-Quarter” (1904), Watson tells how he gradually dissuaded Holmes native the drug habit. Eventually, Watson encouraged Holmes to quit taking drugs.

For years ns had progressively weaned that from that drug mania which had actually threatened as soon as to examine his impressive career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no much longer craved because that this fabricated stimulus, but I to be well conscious that the fiend was not dead, however sleeping.


In “The guy with the Twisted Lip,” Dr Watson stumbles coincidentally on Sherlock Holmes, disguised as an old guy sitting in an eastern London minus den. However, that assures Watson that he does not indulge in opium-smoking, however he has actually bought part opium because he is conducting an undercover investigation. Various other stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon perform not indicate that he was addicted come opiates.

Sherlock Holmes as a compulsive smoker

In victorian England tobacco smoking, if no in excess, was related to not just as a pleasurable habit but also as a therapeutic pastime. In the so late Victorian period, smoking cigarettes a pipe or a cigar was commonly a male habit. The British ended up being fond that cigarettes after ~ the Crimean War, and also by the end of the 19th century lock had end up being a smoking nation. Cigarette production began on a mass range in the so late 1880s, and cigarettes to be recommended not only for entertain use, but also for instant relief that asthma, bronchial trouble and other respiratory problems.

Sherlock Holmes was very fond of smoking for that is alleged mind-refreshing effect. The smoked cigars, cigarettes, and also most preferably pipes. Occasionally, he snuffed tobacco from a jewel snuff-box. He maintained his cigars in a scuttle or a slipper besides the fireplace in his apartment in ~ 221B Baker Street. Dr Watson also enjoyed smoking a pipe and occasionally that smoked a cigar, but he never ever smoked cigarettes. Holmes smoked a pipe once he was in a contemplative mood. However, when he to be agitated, he smoked cigarettes and also paced the drawing room. The smoked a cigar (most preferably Cuban) generally after a enjoy the meal in a restaurant, or as soon as drinking brandy.

Sherlock Holmes had three pipes do from clay, briar-wood and cherry-wood. The clay pipeline was probably his many favourite one. The an initial mention the Holmes"s smoking cigarettes a pipe is in A research in Scarlet. Holmes, who in many ways anticipates Crime step Investigators (CSI), was also interested in various brands that tobacco for its usage in utilizing tobacco as evidence. In The sign of Four, that speaks about his clinical interest in tobacco ashes.

Yes, I have been guilty of numerous monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, because that example, is one "Upon the difference between the Ashes of the assorted Tobaccos." In it i enumerate a hundred and also forty creates of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, v coloured plates illustrating the distinction in the ash. That is a suggest which is continually transforming up in criminal trials, and which is periodically of supreme prestige as a clue. If you deserve to say definitely, for example, that some murder had been excellent by a male who was smoking an Indian lunkah, it obviously narrows your ar of search. To the trained eye there is as much difference between the black ash that a Trichinopoly and also the white fluff that bird"s-eye as there is in between a cabbage and also a potato.


Sherlock Holmes, a connoisseur of French wines, to be fond of an excellent alcohol, but he never indulged in it. His favourites to be burgundies, particularly Montrachet and also Meursault. In The sign of Four, he drink red burgundy for lunch, and in “The Gloria Scott” he drinks port after ~ dinner. In “The Adventure that the dying Detective” Holmes refreshes himself v a glass the claret. In His critical Bow, that tries a bottle of imperial Tokay. Holmes, that was also fond of whisky and soda, had actually a gasogene in his sit room for making soda water. That drank brandy for medicinal purposes. Occasionally, that drank a glass that beer. An expert on wines, spirits, and also beer, Holmes offered his understanding of the behavior of imbibers to fix some the his most difficult cases.


In current scholarship Sherlock Holmes appears much more than simply a "master detective". His personality, behaviour, and addictions have end up being an exciting area the psychological and psychiatric research. Even if it is he was or no a medicine addict is of little relevance today. However, Sherlock Holmes has become an epitome of a particular strand of masculine society of late-Victorian England, i beg your pardon is characterised by physical power and hegemonic masculinity, male friendship (comradeship), and also occasional strident misogyny.

Related Material

References and also Further Reading

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The complete Sherlock Holmes. Quantities I and also II. Arrival and notes by Kyle Freeman. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003.

Foxcroft, Louise. The making of Addiction: The "Use and Abuse" of opium in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Burlington, VT: Ashgate publishing Company, 2007.

Gootenberg, Paul. Andean Cocaine: The making of a global Drug. Chapel Hill, NC.: university of north Carolina Press, 2008.

Grinspoon, Lester and also James B. Bakalar. Cocaine: A Drug and also Its social Evolution. New York: an easy Books. Place, 1985.

Guy, Partricia. Bacchus in ~ Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes & Victorian drinking Lore Lincoln: iUniverse, 2007.

Pearce, D.H. “Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle and also Cocaine,” newspaper of the background of the Neurosciences: simple and Clinical Perspectives, 3(4), 1994, 227-232.

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Shreffler, Philip A., ed. Sherlock Holmes by Gas-lamp: Highlights from the first Four years of the Baker Street Journal. New York: Fordham college Press, 1989.