“Drink”: An Introduction to the book by Ann Johnston

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Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol” reveals the dark side of female drinking. She epitomizes the growing relationship between women and the bottle with a continuous look back at her childhood, early adulthood and a more recent partnership with dependence. Ms. Johnston’s interesting and vibrant description of her happy childhood makes us wonder why she ever turned to drinking, but throughout the book she reveals that she grew up under the shadow of alcoholism, being raised by two alcoholics. She elegantly separates the differences between her parents drinking habits: Her mother would spend her nights wandering the halls with a drink, and was more obviously a problem drinker. Whereas her father was much more reserved and secretive, although he eventually died from a neurological disease known as Korsakoff’s Syndrome which is caused by “chronic alcohol abuse and/or severe malnutrition.”

Ms. Johnston’s book often focuses on her personal journey to sobriety, which she accomplished after rehabilitation in 2008. She points out through her experiences as well as those she interviewed that women drink for many reasons, and most of these reasons are not the same for men. Many women alcoholics, including Ms. Johnston, drank to cover up pain, emotions and as an escape from their troublesome realities. One of the women she sits down with at the beginning of the book goes by Rebecca, and she captures the essence as to why many young women turn to alcohol as well as develop eating disorders and drug habits. Rebecca tells Ms. Johnston that she moved around a lot as a child, and desperately wanted to fit in. She had a weight problem and was heavily influenced by the media at the time. She drank herself into blackouts as well as becoming anorexic and bulimic. Eventually she moved from vodka to whiskey (for breakfast) and began using hard drugs like cocaine.

Other key points that Ms. Johnston makes include the correlation between sexual abuse and women’s drinking and alcoholism. A number of the women she interviews admit to being sexually violated and abused, some of which were violated at a very young age and subsequently began drinking in their teens and even earlier. Another issue that is well diagnosed by this book is that of the effect of alcohol on unborn babies. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (Or FASD’s) as she describes them are a growing problem, especially with the increase in drinking by women in the Western world.

Another issue discussed in the book, an especially important one in fact, is how “big alcohol” similar to “big tobacco” 40 years ago has a deeply concerning agenda and an army of lobbyists to carry it out. Ms. Johnston points out in her book that a few years ago the alcohol companies took aim at men by using images of women and sex. The alcohol industry now realizes that it needs to sell to women, and they will do so with virtually a free pass on TV and social networking sites.

Before I conclude this introduction I think it is important to discuss one other aspect of the book which is the stigma surrounding women’s alcoholism. Towards the end of the book Ms. Johnston reveals that she asked many women whether they’d rather be viewed as depressed rather than alcoholic. The clear majority said they would rather be known as depressed than a drunk.

I wont reveal anymore of the book as it would ruin the experience, and it is without a doubt a “sobering” tale in which science, personal testimony and interviews merge to address a growing problem in our society.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston

Over the course of December we will be exploring some of the issues Ann Johnston raised in her recent book “Drink”. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or concerns we can help you with.

“Drink”: An Introduction to the book by Ann Johnston