When we think about narratives of alcoholism, we tend to default to intervention-style tragedies, in which an embarrassing family member bottoms out via unthinkable consumption, keeping a bottle of vodka in the desk drawer, and humiliating themselves at parties. What we don’t consider is the more private and sinister form of addiction, where a drink makes the anxious day bearable, and the world provides the convenient crutch of social acceptability.
With Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, Ann Dowsett Johnston uses her own battle with alcohol to drive home the point that dependence often comes in less obvious forms, and is more rampant than we’d like to believe. Her central focus is the iron-clad grip alcoholism maintains on an increasing number of women – who are now closing the gender gap in terms of alcohol-related abuse and disease – and the new kind of marketing that is fuelling this problem.
Johnston is at her strongest when relaying her own struggles, artfully and candidly painting a portrait of the slow cascade into addiction, and the ease with which we collectively excuse it. One glass becomes two, then three, then the bottle. Vows not to drink alone are quickly broken, and promises to loved ones not to drink again become lies. The author is a successful woman, yet she fights a daily battle with the bottle that lands her in recovery, where she realizes the roads back to drinking are everywhere.
The book falters when it veers into alarmist finger pointing, painting women as victims of a capitalist monolith, rather than individuals with agency and choice. Such is the stumbling block of a gendered analysis rooted in market influence: it lazily assumes that Skinny Girl wine, the sexual revolution, and the advent of women’s rights are responsible for the damage at hand.
Overall, though, Drink is a worthy and enlightening read, exposing addiction in its less dramatic, yet still insidious, forms. It pulls back the curtain of quiet dependence, and exposes the private alcoholic’s refrain of “I’m fine” for what it truly is.