Smashed: story of a drunken girlhood Book Review
Emily Ann Leonard
The memoir I read is about a young woman, Koren Zailckas, who, over the course of growing up, not only experimented with alcohol, but also went through the whole cycle of alcohol abuse. She shares her experiences in order to present that this can be the case with anyone and evolves over time, not all at once. She begins the story by talking about one of her childhood friends, Natalie, with whom presented Koren’s first sip of alcohol. She describes Natalie as one of those friends who always was the first to do things, and to encourage others to jump on board. After trying Southern Comfort at the young age of 14, she realizes that this alcohol stuff makes the inhibitions, which she struggles with so often, disappear—She loves this. She wants to drink more after this time, but Natalie goes away to a boarding school, and Koren’s source of alcohol goes right with her. She goes on to talk about her drinking experiences in high school, particularly at age 16 when she requires her stomach to be pumped after a party. She went on to college where she stayed in the party scene, joined a sorority, and continued her bad habits. She had many negative experiences including sexual encounters, fights, and problems with relationships, all while under the influence of heavy alcohol. She tries quitting a few times unsuccessfully, even moving away from the party scene. She is finally able to quit at the age of 23 after realizing how much it cost her.
Koren, although still seemingly in denial about the actual problems she faced growing up, was a full-blown alcoholic. The diagnosis Koren should have accepted would have been alcohol use disorder. This as defined in Deborah C. Beidel’s Abnormal Psychology textbook is, “a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress…” (Beidel, 2014, p. 318). While Koren experienced a plethora of symptoms that would allow for a positive diagnosis of this disorder, a few really stuck out. One of these is the “craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol” (Beidel, 2014, p. 318). Although mentioned many times, she flat out illustrates how hard it is for her to not want to drink by saying, “I cant get over a pledge I was forced to sign when I vowed my intention to become a sister of Zeta: It made me promise I would abstain from alcohol for the next three months.” (Zailckas, 2005, p. 146). Another symptom she exudes is that of, “alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.” (Beidel, 2014, p. 318). This is shown when Koren says, “I also expect to be able to limit my drinking to just a few nights a week… less than a month after our reunion, Vanessa and I are hunched at one bar stool or another, sucking down Blue Hawaiians by the strawful, five or six nights a week.” (Zailckas, 2005, p. 281). She shows that even though it was not her intention, she cannot not help her intake of alcohol when the opportunity arises. The next prominent symptom is that of, “alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol” (Beidel, 2005, p. 318). The psychological problem this applies to in Koren’s life is that of her serious confidence and self-image issues. She says, “This kind of self-loathing used to be the reason I drank in the first place”, showing how her alcohol abuse was so tightly connected to her mental state (Zailckas, 2005, p. 264). Lastly, another symptom Koren displays is, “Tolerance, as defined by a need for markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alchohol” (Beidel, 2014, p. 318). This is implied at different times in the book, but especially when she talks about how she expected her tolerance to be “next to nil” after abstaining for a short time...
References: Beidel, D., Bulik, C. & Stanley, M. (2014). Abnormal psychology. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
Zailckas, K. (2005). Smashed: story of a drunken girlhood. New York: Viking.
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