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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Abysmal Addictions

Cover image for Appointment in Samarra
There’s no shortage of reading material on addiction and recovery. Alcohol and drug abuse figure prominently in classics like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the mother of all family-derailed-by-addiction works, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Less well known is Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara’s brilliant novel about a businessman’s senseless descent into drinking and ruin, which has been described as a counterpart to The Great Gatsby. Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver and John Cheever are other American authors whose writing (and personal lives) often incorporated hard drinking.
Cover image for A Drinking Life
Memoirs provide an effective way for authors to navigate the terrain of becoming sober. Some notable ones are Augusten Burroughs’s Dry, Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life, Mary Karr’s Lit, and Sarah Hepola’s Blackout. My personal favorite, for its moving portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her alcoholism, is Carolyn Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. Finally, in Drink: The Intimate Relationship between Women and Alcohol, Ann Dowsett Johnston blends her own recovery story with recent research about the health risks and current trends of women’s alcohol abuse.

Memoirs about drug addiction are also abundant. Joshua Lyons’s Pill Head explores the dangers of prescription medication addiction, and William Cope Moyers’s Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption describes how the son of broadcaster Bill Moyers disrupted his life and relationships with repeated relapses into cocaine use.

Addictions need not take the form of substance abuse. Lawrence Osborne’s Ballad of a Small Player addresses the author’s gambling compulsion. Internet Addiction, by Laura Perdew, deals with the problem of compulsive connectivity.

Beneath a Meth MoonYoung people may be particularly susceptible to drug and alcohol problems, and there are many cautionary tales involving youth. Go Ask Alice has been the standard bearer of teen drug addiction for decades, while Koren Zailickas’s Smashed follows the author’s early descent into excessive drinking. Nic Sheff’s, Tweak and his father David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy give two heartbreaking perspectives on Nic’s methamphetamine dependence.

Finally, for fictional portrayals of addiction, there’s Jane Green’s Summer Secrets, about a woman’s struggle with drinking, Dopefiend by JaQuavis, which explores heroin addiction, and Jacqueline Woodson’s Beneath a Meth Moon, about a grieving Hurricane Katrina survivor who escapes her pain with crystal meth.

Laura S.

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