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12 and HoldingA Guide to Asperger SyndromeA Lethal InheritanceA Mother's Courage: Talking Back to AutismA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA Special EducationA Toss Of The DiceA Tribe ApartA User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HDA Walk in the Rain With a BrainABC of Eating DisordersADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeADHD Grown UpADHD in the Schools: Assessment and Intervention StrategiesADHD NationAdolescence and Body ImageAdolescent DepressionAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAll Alone in the UniverseAlpha GirlsAmericaAnother PlanetAntisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAsperger Syndrome and Your ChildAsperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and IdentityAsperger's and GirlsAssessment of Childhood DisordersAttention Deficit DisorderAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderAutism - The Eighth Colour of the RainbowAutism and MeAutism's False ProphetsAutistic Spectrum DisordersBad GirlBeen There, Done That? DO THIS!Before I DieBetween Two WorldsBeyond AppearanceBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBipolar ChildrenBipolar Disorder in Childhood and Early AdolescenceBipolar DisordersBipolar KidsBlackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive DevelopmentBody Image, Eating Disorders, and ObesityBody Image, Eating Disorders, and Obesity in YouthBoy AloneBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBreaking PointBreathing UnderwaterBringing Up ParentsBullying and TeasingBullying PreventionBut I Love HimCan't Eat, Won't EatCaring for a Child with AutismCatalystChild and Adolescent PsychiatryChild and Adolescent Psychological DisordersChild and Adolescent PsychopathologyChild NeuropsychologyChild Well-BeingChildren and SexualityChildren Changed by TraumaChildren with Emerald EyesChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChildren’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness City of OneCommunication Issues In Autism And Asperger SyndromeConcepts of NormalityConcise Guide to Child 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It is very difficult to write a
readable memoir of excessive drinking because the protagonists insist on lying
to themselves and hurting themselves. Authors are caught on the horns of a
dilemma. Either they write so that is easy to identify with the main
character, in which case it is painful to read how he or she behaves so
self-destructively, or else, they make it hard to sympathize with the main
character, in which case the drinking just seems annoying. So it is impressive
that Koren Zailckas manages to make her memoir of her teenage and college
drinking so engaging. She grows up in the Boston area, in a basically normal
family with no major problems as far as we can tell, but she feels awkward with
her peers much of the time, and finds that drinking helps. She starts drinking
in her early teens and soon she is getting drunk on a very regular basis and
she even ends up after one night of excess in the local hospital. Her parents
are very concerned and take a firm stand with her, but she goes on drinking
anyway. She gets through high school and goes to college at Syracuse University,
and soon she is drinking to excess on an even more regular basis. She joins a
sorority and her drinking gets worse. But she gets through college and gets a
job in advertising in New York City, and engages in even more risky behavior,
passing out in strangers' apartments. But at the age of 22, after a number of
previous attempts, Zailckas comes to realize that she needs to stop, and she
does, without the aid of alcoholics anonymous or mental health professionals.
It is interesting that Zailckas
never categorizes herself as an alcoholic. She thinks of alcoholism as a
genetic disease, while she thinks of herself as someone who just got into
self-destructive habits. While she includes some discussion of studies of
patterns of drinking in girls and college women, she says little about the
scientific study of excessive drinking and nothing to justify her definition of
alcoholism. It is clear that she would count as a person with a substance
abuse problem according to the criteria in the DSM-IV-IR,
and it is worth remembering that the DSM manual does not include any category
for alcoholism. Yet Zailckas seems to see herself as very different from
people with the disease of alcoholism. She portrays herself as a rather
typical representative of a large group of young women who drink too much
because it makes it easier to deal with the pressures of school, because it is
a way to gain approval and popularity, and of course it is a way to lose one's
inhibitions. One can behave badly and then blame it on the alcohol the next
day. She eventually emails an addiction expert about her drinking, and he
writes back confirming her view, saying she seems more like an alcohol abuser
who has some control over her behavior, rather than an alcoholic who has no
Along the way of her story, Zailckas
points out modern trends among American girls and young women in drinking, and
has some angry words for how alcohol is promoted in the media, as well as the
ineffective education programs that schools and colleges conduct in a futile
attempt to reduce excessive drinking. She is also critical of the disparity in
the government funds directed at the war on drugs compared to the meager amount
spent on trying to reduce alcohol abuse. She makes good points, and they make
the book more interesting. Ultimately though, it is much more a work of
personal story-telling than political commentary, and it is Zailckas' writing
about her own life that pulls the reader in even when she seems an unappealing
Zailckas is now in her
mid-twenties and stopped drinking a couple of years ago. Readers who are past
their mid-twenties may be surprised by Zailckas' tendency to discuss events
that happened a few years ago as something from her distant past, like a young
child looking at a baby and saying he was like that when he was little. Zailckas
also makes repeated admiring references to the work of Sylvia Plath, which adds
to the sense that she is still young. She herself says that she looks young,
and is sometimes taken to be in her mid-teens. The authority of the book
derives not so much from her wisdom but rather because the events are
relatively fresh in her memory.
It is alarming that so many young
women are binge-drinking so often, and are very likely causing themselves even
greater problems by having sex with boys or men they would not even talk to
when they were sober. While the phenomenon of getting drunk and doing things
you would regret the next day if you could remember doing them is hardly new,
it seems to be becoming an acceptable part of youth culture. Not only do a
good number of youth reality TV shows implicitly promote the behavior, but also
there is a whole industry devotes to selling websites and DVDs featuring drunk
girls. Parents of teenage girls who read Smashed will want to lock
their daughters at home for the next ten years.
© 2005 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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