Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp Essay

The client’s presenting problem, the client’s choice of drugs and the effect on her lifestyle, when the client began using drugs, the leading cause of alcohol consumption, consequences of the overuse of alcohol, developmental history, caroline’s childhood, personality characteristics.

Drinking a love story by Caroline describes a life of an alcoholic daughter of rich parents. Excessive wealth, love, and carelessness from her parents caused her to adopt life-threatening habits. She, later on, started consuming alcohol. She indulged in alcoholism so much that her life was completely devastated. Caroline describes in detail the bad outcomes of excessive consumption of alcohol. One-third of alcoholics are women. Every day she consumed more and more alcohol and that was causing more damage to her life.

Caroline started drinking in her early teens. She becomes alcoholic and addicted to drink alcohol. Her love affair is with drinking alcohol. Alcohol in this story is symbolized as his lover and an unresponsive man. Alcohol is her unfaithful lover, she’s addicted to it and fallen in love with it, but in return, it is not giving the same love and affection but destroying her life. Her treatment is divorce with the wine.

The presenting problem of the client is that she is an alcoholic, and a severe one, and has resultantly been into many relationships with men.

The client was an alcoholic and used alcohol as a means of reducing stress. It began with her initiation of alcohol consumption at a meager age of sixteen, and developed into a habit so profound, that it had become hard for her to live without drinking. So much so, that she even carried her own liquor bottles in her handbag, in case of a shortage of drink at the table during a meal.

Since the tender age of sixteen, Caroline had started consuming alcohol. She felt confident to do so because her father was also an alcoholic. Taking in too many drinks did not seem strange to her, and neither did she hesitate in doing so. Throughout her adolescence, she felt good about having a drink, followed by another, and another. She had started having relationships with boys her senior at college, and getting drunk made her feel light, and better with her affairs with men. She had a weakness for drinks, and for men who liked to have drinks, up to the point of getting drunk. She remembered being told that getting drunk would make the process of having sex with men more pleasurable, and each time she went out with someone, she would get drunk before indulging in the man sexually. In her thirties, there was never a time she would not be drinking. She had increased her intake, with the passing years. Drinking alcohol made her feel at ease, and build her confidence. Her intake was very frequent until her later years when she sought therapy to get rid of the habit.

The leading cause we can assume maybe that there was liquor at home the whole time, which made her start the intake. But since it is an addiction, we cannot specify a single reason for her liquor intake in excessive amounts. It just ‘happens’ and becomes a part of you once you are an addict, and this is what Caroline had experienced too. There are also many stages or phases that she had gone through, that led to alcohol consumption.

During the Dreamworld stage, since her adolescence, she had problems with drinking. She starts consuming alcohol in her early teens and became a regular drinker by the age of sixteen. Her father was a psychoanalyst and a drinker himself who had affairs with several women. Her mother wasn’t able to give attention to her daughter as she was already suffering from breast cancer. She was born in a prosperous family and her twin sister became a physician. However, Knapp became extremely addicted to alcohol.

In the disillusionment stage, all the symptoms of alcoholism started appearing as she approached her 20s. She also started on unrealistic sex relationships with several men. This added to her unhealthy condition.

During the misery stage, her thoughts and imaginations were immersed in a bottle of alcohol. A daughter of a well-to-do family had a love affair with alcohol that ruined her entire life. The story narrates a true life image of an alcoholic and a warning for those who had started out of the habit of drinking.

During her enlightenment stage, she sometimes realized that this habit has completely ruined her life. She struggles to find out contact with those who are even more alcoholic than her, in order to comfort her that she’s not alone. Her parents were also alcoholics. However, she tries to come up with this problem by improving her self-image and recovery from this state.

“At the same time Meg’s story – her shyness and shame and confusion -is achingly familiar. Bad, semi-consensual drunken sex: so many women I know did this. So many still do. At least one-quarter of the 17,592 students surveyed in a 1995 Harvard School of Public Health study on-campus drinking said they had suffered an unwanted sexual advance as a result of drinking; that same year, a Columbia University study reported that alcohol plays a role in ninety percent of rapes on college campuses.” (Knapp).

In her mid-20s she sought help from a psychotherapist to solve her problems with eating. Because of her excessive consumption of alcohol she lost her appetite, a condition called anorexia. However, during her treatment, she kept on drinking. Regular consumption of alcohol made her very distressed and she gradually started realizing the cause of her unhappiness.

During the mutual respect stage, her both parents died of cancer. The loss of her parents, her father’s several comments, and her carelessness while holding a child of her friend moved her to undergo an alcoholic anonymous rehabilitation program. Though she was successful as a journalist, she was unable to control her behavior, her unhealthy condition and developed distorting unwanted sex relationships with several men.

She found her love affair with alcohol as synonymous with an unfaithful and unresponsive man, who had destroyed her life completely. Her recovery would be to end this relationship from its roots and to take a divorce from this love.

Those who consume alcohol usually indulge in this habit in order to avoid facing difficulties in life. Caroline brings to their awareness that drinking is not the solution as it makes the problem worse. By drinking one cannot avoid those difficulties and problems but in fact have other severe health problems incurred. This can make their lives miserable. The story is very good advice for drinkers about this life-threatening habit. She sketches a true picture of an alcoholic daughter and its miserable outcomes on women of all ages who have this habit.

The effects of the overconsumption of alcohol were, that she had become an ‘alcoholic’, or had been highly addicted to alcohol. The addition of any substance results in more and more use of that substance and gives you the satisfaction that you may not attain otherwise. This is the drawback of the addiction of anything, that it causes you harm, but gives you deep pleasure in whatever you do, and a serene feeling, that nothing else can provide. The consequences of her use of alcohol resulted in her becoming anorexic, which is a disease associated with minimal intake of food. She fell into many unhealthy relationships with men, and this was an outcome of her alcohol intake. The high doses of drinks she took caused eating disorders in her, as well as an unhappy feeling, for which she had to seek therapy (Knapp, C., 1996).

She was upset due to her father’s death, which made her drink more and remained confused with her life. She did not know what to do, as her love affair with alcohol was a serious one, and this was one relationship she could not shun. Her personality was changing with every passing day, due to the overuse of alcohol. Her behavior with family would be somewhat confusing too, as she would lie to them for a sip of alcohol every now and then, for example, in one instance, she entered the house to visit the restroom, but on her way, she went for a drink, out of her handbag, juts to satisfy herself. The real purpose for her entry to the house, while the others were seated outside, was not for the restroom, but for the drink.

The most significant factor in Caroline’s life was that her father had been a drunk man ever so many times in front of her, and had been indulged in relationships with many women, which made her feel mystified at what pleasure sex would give. This was one such issue she would never have realized would be so pleasing, and was never going to be her cup of tea, she had assumed. But when she began taking in drinks with the family, there was a certain feeling of completeness in her, which was reducing her insecurities. The alcoholism she had acquired was removing all fears of her life and giving her a sense of numbness towards life’s difficulties (Knapp, C., 1996). She had become dishonest to herself and ignored the realities of life because alcohol makes you dishonest with yourself too.

Caroline was born into an upper-middle-class family, with her father being an esteemed psychoanalyst, and her mother being an artist. She was a bright student, but in her college days, she was just seeking a course that would be best suited to her capabilities, because she had started to become an alcoholic. She chose simple subjects for her ease. Her parents were not having a smooth relationship for many years, but they did not let her know of their conflicts. She had found her father to be a mystery until he died, and thought that he had something hidden inside him always. Her mother had decided to leave her husband, due to an extramarital affair that had been going on for the past seven years; this disturbed Caroline a lot.

Caroline was an independent individual; but with her increasing intake of alcohol, she had become insecure and used her drinking habit to overcome the fears that were stored inside her. Since the effect of alcoholism was so intense and satisfying, she always used it as a way to remove the stress from her busy life. She was a confused personality, meeting with several men at a time, and not knowing how to refuse their approach towards her. She would not be willing to go with them, but the effect of the drinks would make her change her mind, and get sexually involved with these men. Basically, she was a confused, unrealistic, and perverted personality.

Caroline was undergoing therapy, to remove her drinking habit. I opine this as the best method of treatment for her too, as no other medicine or drug would help her out of the dilemma she was facing. Therapy through various sobriety groups is the best option for her, as she may go for rehabilitation and interact with other people with similar problems, and learn to rebuild her self-confidence, and lastly, get rid of her drinking habit.

  • Knapp, C. Drinking: A Love Story 1996.
  • Drinking, a Love Story.
  • Drinking, a Love Story. Chapter Six.
  • Taylor, Cynthia (1998) Drinking: A Love Story. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 1998 by Handrup, Cynthia Taylor.
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2024, March 10). Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp.

"Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp." IvyPanda , 10 Mar. 2024,

IvyPanda . (2024) 'Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp'. 10 March.

IvyPanda . 2024. "Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp." March 10, 2024.

1. IvyPanda . "Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp." March 10, 2024.


IvyPanda . "Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp." March 10, 2024.

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  • Jan 9, 2023

On Elissa Washuta's "Drinking Story"

drinking a love story essay

8 January 2023

On “Drinking Story” by Elissa Washuta (found in Best American Essays 2022 )

Washuta’s piece takes the standard CNF essay and runs it through a bartender’s blender. All the elements of plot are washed out, diluted, muted, and mixed. In her piece, Washuta even admits that she’s mangled Freytag’s pyramid:

What happened is a memory hole where narrative drowned…Meanwhile, my uninebriated brain began putting together a private narrative that could be as long as I needed. Without an audience, it could resist the easy clasping of cause and consequence, and the visceral pleasure of the arc. I had to stop grasping for the closest source of narrative menace I could find—myself, the dipsomaniac—and enter a space where there was no tension to be modulated, no structure to guide me toward a triumphant resolution. I had to understand why I needed alcohol so I’d never go back there looking for something I’d lost (7).

Washuta knows what is expected of her as an essayist writing a story (a story within a story, given the AA concept of alcoholic narrative); yet because of her alcoholic’s episodic dissociation she cannot provide it, so she deliberately avoids the form. Instead, her essay is a mashup of individual anecdotal sensations—flashes, really. She writes, “Hitting bottom became a plot point, and my history was a chain of cause and effect leading to it. Meetings gave me that vehicle for meaning. But once I let the plot sprawl, I couldn’t bring it back there” (8-9).

Nevertheless, her story has a few major plot points. We learn that there was an inciting incident that set this arc in motion. It seems as though Washuta was either sexually abused or raped or in any case had sexual encounters with men that were traumatic: “…men want to hurt me. Soon after the first one got inside me, I began to drink. Alcohol mashed a button in my hypothalamus that made my adrenals light up” (9).

We also learn that Washuta did, in fact, have a climactic moment, a turning point, too: “Hitting bottom became a plot point, and my history was a chain of cause and effect leading to it” (8). Nevertheless, that point is murky and undeveloped--which, frankly, makes me a touch mad at Atticus Review for telling me I had to give the full story when I alluded to something in the essay I sent them: clearly, it’s ok to make an underdeveloped allusion if we don’t wish to divulge the truth. Clearly. Because Washuta published it that way. We don’t know what “rock bottom” looked like for her, nor do we know what, precisely, her narrative turning point consisted of; we know only that there was one. Fascinating.

This weaving of three narratives, the one for her AA meetings, the one for herself, and the one for her CNF essay, intrigued me. The Freytag’s pyramid for them all is the same, with the details muddled in different areas for each. The metaphors are not lost on me. Some parts she does not wish to admit to the men at the AA meetings, other parts she does not wish to admit to herself, and still others she will not share with the general public. Noted.

As I’m working my way through The Myth of Normal by Gabor Maté, that reading shapes everything else I read. Maté’s theory is that no mental illness, no diagnosis, is genetic or heritable. All mental illness, to include substance dependence, stems from our primary attachment wounds (or perhaps secondary). Given that claim, which I admit I find indisputable, Washuta’s insistence that she “was born wanting” and thus predetermined somehow to alcoholism, is faulty (7). Maté would likely tell her that it might feel that way, because the wanting began so early; yet, we are not born this way. The wanting is a result of not receiving the attachment needed in infancy. If Washuta’s parent(s) were alcoholic, the trait may have been handed down not by genetic inheritance, but rather by generational trauma—by behavior patterns that influenced attachment dysfunction.

That said, Washuta hits upon the issue precisely, and Maté would agree, when she writes, “I think alcohol was the only tool I had to shutter the memory palace in my head, where all the hallways led too rooms where I was on my back, pressed against a bed or a couch or a floor, suffering” (9). My guess is Maté would tell Washuta she cannot expect sleep to return to her until she works through all those things she was attempting to escape via alcohol (suppression, dissociation). That is to say, her ghosts she must address out in the open, via therapy, before her brain will allow her to become less hypervigilant, allow rest.

Having recently decided to give up alcohol myself, I could relate with Washuta’s story to a certain degree. It’s clear I never drank as heavily as she. However, likewise, I’ve found sleep difficult without alcohol. I find, as she does, that “…without the generous erasure of the blackout, you meet a million details demanding to be stored” (6). My mind races with all of the inputs it received throughout any given day, deciphering it all. It can take me hours to fall asleep at night. Even the hunger is similar for me as for Washuta: “I began to understand hunger as a kind of faith, the demand for fuel to keep going” (9). For me, without alcohol, I’ve been turning to food for emotional comfort. Yes, my hunger reminds me that I’m alive and moving forward, but it’s also partially filling the space that alcohol has vacated—for better or for worse (my new pudge says for worse).

As a concluding thought, let me return to my opening thought: Washuta’s writing is great. Her imagery is vivid and engaging. There are moments that her words slip into the esoteric to a degree that I could not precisely follow her logic—instead, I followed a sense or flavor of the logic. I looked closer at these moments to determine where I’d gone wrong, what I’d missed, and found nothing lacking in my cognition. Her words had waxed poetic; she was writing her drunken experience, something to which none of her readers could possibly relate. While my not comprehending her words initially frustrated me (I blamed myself), I see now that they were craft elements that the publishers would allow as art . And perhaps that is what makes CNF so wonderful: it falls at moments closer to poetry than prose, and that’s quite alright. Rather than take a personal hit from reading Washuta’s essay, I’ll take a lesson from it: don’t be afraid to lean in to sensational imagery, if it lends itself to the situation (as Washuta’s did for her drunken moments). It worked for her; it could work for me, too.

5/5 - highly recommend Washuta's essay.

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Caroline Knapp's " Drinking: A Love Story" Narrative Essay by The Research Group


From the Paper:

Cite this narrative essay:.

a close up of beer in a glass

How I let drinking take over my life

I had my last drink five years ago, in the early hours of the morning on 1 January 2013. I think it might have been around 2am. I wouldn’t have described myself as drunk. I would have said I’d had a few drinks. But I was drunk. If I had tried to drive, or write, or give a talk in public, I’d have done these things badly. Feeling neither happy nor sad, I raised the glass and swallowed the booze. It was some kind of fruit punch.

At the time, I didn’t think this would be my last drink. I thought it would be my last drink until my birthday, on 30 April. For 10 years, I’d spent the first four months of every year as a teetotaler. There had been two exceptions. One year I started drinking on 27 April, because I was in a houseboat in a harbour and I was offered a glass of wine. I hated myself for those three days. Another year I did not quit until March, but punished myself for that lapse with eight months of sobriety instead of the usual four.

But maybe, I often thought, sobriety wasn’t exactly a punishment. I liked sobriety. I slept better. I lost weight. My skin became clearer. I definitely felt fitter. My concentration improved; I could buzz through a book in a few hours. My mind was sharper. I felt lighter, happier. I no longer turned up to appointments late, sweaty, reeking of alcohol. I had more time. I remember one conversation after 15 teetotal weeks; the guy I was talking to said he couldn’t believe how young I looked. He really meant it. Sobriety rejuvenates you like nothing else.

Then my birthday, my drinking day, would come around again. I’d have a sense of nervous anticipation, a queasy feeling that I didn’t want to start drinking again, combined with a queasy feeling that I did. In any case, I felt compelled to start drinking again; that was part of the deal I’d made with myself, because I really wanted to drink. I wanted to drink for precisely the same reason that I didn’t want to drink – because I had a drinking problem. Drink seemed to have a strange, brain-sucking power over me. On my birthday, I would wake up feeling the sort of anxiety you feel before a date or a party. I was going to start drinking again. Tonight, I would be in a different world.

When I try to explain my drinking problem, it goes like this: in my head, I was a moderate drinker, but after I’d had a drink, I wasn’t. The more I drank, the more I wanted to drink. Drinking increased my thirst. I wanted the second drink more than the first, and I wanted the fifth more than I’d wanted the fourth. My thirst always increased over the course of an evening. But it also increased, in a more subtle way, over the course of a month, a year, a decade. Drink added something, but it always seemed to subtract more than it added, and the only way I could get things back to normal was to drink more, and all this drinking began to wreck my mind. And then I’d stop, and I’d be sober for 120 days. Being sober felt great. So why did I always go back to drinking?

The first few days of sobriety provided a clue. On day one I’d wake up with a hangover. The next day I’d wake up with a phantom hangover. The day after that I’d wake up, and put my head under the duvet, waiting for the pain and the sickness. For a few seconds, my mind would be racing. What did I drink last night? How much did I get through? And then I’d remember: nothing. I drank nothing. And without the shroud of a hangover, my mind would feel strangely defenceless; any emotion could just barge in and march around for hours. In those moments, I understood something about why my drinking was a problem.

During the times I did not drink, I was not aware of wanting to drink. I did not crave it or sneak around and drink secretly. Being sober made me think of chainsmokers whose craving disappears on long-haul airline journeys. They know they can’t possibly smoke, so they just put the whole thing out of their minds.

Marc Lewis, a neuroscientist and addiction expert, told me it was the same thing as when you put a piece of meat in the fridge, and your dog paws at the door, whining and trying to force the door open. But if you convince the dog the door is locked, it will stop whining and walk away.

Every year, I stopped whining and walked away. I went to pubs and bars and drank fizzy water. In the evenings I drank tea. I saw that most people, almost everybody in fact, did not care whether or not I drank at their parties. Some people don’t even notice. I just said: “I’m off the drink.” People just said: “Cool.” On planes I was happy not to drink the little bottles of wine. I did not drink low-alcohol drinks. I did not have little nips of this or that. I knew I was not going to drink, and this knowledge made me not want to drink. I felt in control. I knew I would drink again on my birthday. I had a persistent fantasy that, the next time I started to drink, things would be better.

They never were. I could never drink in moderation. I could never have just the one, or just a couple. I always wanted more. I was never quite in control of the amount I drank, as if my brain had been damaged. Something felt wrong, and this feeling of wrongness would get worse as the year wore on – summer worse than spring, autumn worse than summer. During the times when I drank, I had another persistent fantasy, which would pop into my mind every so often: a big, fat, round tumbler of super-strength vodka, shimmering under a layer of ice, so strong it smelled like petrol. The perfect drink. That was my fantasy when I drank, and it was still my fantasy on the day I slugged my last drink, some kind of fruit punch, in the early hours of 1 January 2013. In just 120 days, I thought, that big fat vodka will be there, in some fancy minimalist bar, waiting for me.

In the five years since that moment, I have not touched a drink, and I have not wanted to. My drinking days seem far away, almost like a life lived by somebody else. Drink – the very idea of it – seems rather sickening. Quaffing sour or pungent liquids in order to make yourself dumber? Preposterous! I have the same feelings about alcohol that I had when I was 10. It’s dangerous; it’s disgusting; it causes cancer; it rots your liver and makes you look, and smell, like a much older and sicker person. Still, I’ve never stopped wondering why it grasped me so firmly, and for so long, why I allowed it to ruin parts of my life, parts I will never get back. What did drink offer me that was so much better than sobriety? What, exactly, was its magic?

A t the beginning, I drank because I was anxious, and because I was at boarding school. That’s the story I tell myself, and the story I told Colin Drummond, a consultant psychiatrist at the National Addiction Centre, King’s College London. I went to see Drummond at the end of November 2017 because I wanted an informed opinion on my drinking. We were sitting in his office on the Denmark Hill campus of King’s College. He listened and took notes while I told him my story. At boarding school, I told him, you are supervised inconsistently; sometimes you can sneak off without anybody noticing. I drank from the age of 15. Extra-strong beer in cans; vodka in quarter bottles, hidden in lavatory cisterns; pub lager. I wanted to escape all the time. Drink was not a proper escape, but it was a sort of escape.

At school, I often felt trapped and vulnerable; drink could improve my mood for a while. A pattern was beginning to form in my brain, a sort of learning. Not the sort of learning you’re supposed to do in school, but learning nevertheless. Drink also made me feel bad – sick and headachy afterwards. But the good began to override the bad. I remember the malty taste of extra-strong lager, the feel of the can in my hand, the rush of bubbles in my nose, and I remember the golden colour of beer in pubs, how cold it was when I took that first gulp, how clean and cheering it felt as it went down. Once I was in a pub, aged 16, and I took a swig of lager from a pint glass, and it was perfect, and that perfection imprinted itself in my mind, and for decades I would buy pints of lager and swig them and sometimes feel a twitch on the thread connecting me to my younger self.

After a while, I told Drummond, a pattern emerged – a pattern I hadn’t noticed until now. My drinking came in fits and starts. A lot at school. Then quite a lot in my gap year. Not so much at university. Then I moved to London, to work as a freelance journalist, and started drinking more heavily. Three years later, when I moved out of London, I drank much less; six years after that, when I moved back again, I drank a lot more. My entire social network was being taken over by pubs, and bars, and people who liked to drink in pubs and bars, and people who liked to drink at home. Drink had woven itself into the fabric of my life. It felt as if I didn’t know anybody who didn’t drink. That was when I started trying to quit.

Talking to Drummond made me think about the pattern. There were three bouts of heavy drinking, each more serious than the last. In the first two bouts, in my teens and then in my mid-20s, I responded to stress – the stress of school, the stress of work – by drinking alcohol. In the third bout, when my drinking escalated dramatically, it was as if the alcohol itself had become a stressor.

William Leith.

Some people drink, and then they drink more, and at a certain point, they become obsessed with drink. I always used to notice bottles, the shapes of bottles, the labels and coloured glass. Just looking at the bottles would make me feel a rush of desire. I would know which pubs stocked the strongest beers and ciders, just in case. I loved walking around off-licences, and picking up bottles, and holding them. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, I’d go into an off-licence for a few minutes and talk about wine or whisky with the person behind the counter. For a year, I took a wine course, because wine seemed civilised. I sat in a classroom, one evening a week, talking about wine, and drinking wine, and taking notes. Afterwards, I’d go off with another member of the class, or perhaps two, for a couple more bottles of wine. There were always bottles in my life, bottles everywhere, more bottles than I could believe.

All this time I was in a relationship, and we both drank. I drank more than she did. Our friends drank. When friends visited, I would open the wine in the kitchen, and pour one bottle into four glasses. I’d take the first two glasses and give them to the guests. Then I’d go back into the kitchen and drink one of the glasses as quickly as I could. Working against the clock, I’d open a fresh bottle, refill my glass, and join the other three people, who would be tucking into their drinks. But drinking always increased my desire to drink, so I would finish my second glass before the others had finished their first. Then I’d go back into the kitchen for my first “official” refill. By the time everybody had had three drinks, four bottles would be gone. There was a solution, of course – to buy five bottles. With drink, there always seems to be a solution.

“It creeps up,” said Drummond. “It’s insidious. I don’t like to think it’s ever too late, but it becomes harder and harder to do something about it once it’s got a grip on people.”

Drummond asked me about my family. Was there alcoholism in my family? Sometimes it’s hard to know, because alcohol, its entire culture, emanates a cloud of secrecy. I thought about my family. My grandfather, my mother’s father, drank robustly, to say the least. My brother drinks robustly. My mother hardly drinks. A glass of wine here and there. Maybe two at a wedding. My father drank very little until late middle-age. Then he drank in small amounts. When he retired, he drank more. In his 40s, a very light drinker, he used to warn me about my drinking. By the time I quit, he was in his 80s, and drank every day. I never saw him drunk; he claimed never to have been drunk. But I worried about the brandy, the rum, the gin. Our roles had reversed; now I would warn him about alcohol. I had never heeded his warnings; I don’t suppose he heeded mine, either. When you drink, it can be impossible to think clearly about your drinking.

Alcohol was the drug of choice for both my 16-year-old self and my 86-year-old father: that says something. Drummond listed some of the reasons why alcohol is so attractive: “It makes you more relaxed, it makes you more gregarious, it makes you more confident in social situations, it relieves stress, it actually lifts you up sometimes when you’re feeling low, as an initial effect – so it’s got all these properties.” He thought about this for a while, and then said: “Chemically, it’s an all-rounder.”

H ow does alcohol do all the things it does? How did ethanol, when ingested, give me those perfect moments of escape? And why did my search for those perfect moments turn into a pernicious obsession? I asked Marc Lewis , a professor of neuroscience at the Radboud University in Nijmegen in Holland. Lewis has written, brilliantly, about his own experiences with alcohol, opiates and several other drugs in his book Memoirs of an Addicted Brain.

When the golden lager or shimmering vodka slipped down my throat and entered my brain, Lewis explained, it changed my mood by tampering with several neurotransmitters – the chemicals that enable neurons, or brain cells, to communicate with each other. When you have a thought, or an idea, or a feeling, it is because neurons in your brain are joining up and forming pathways, facilitated by neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters direct the brain’s traffic. Two of the most important ones are glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or Gaba. Glutamate promotes brain activity; Gaba inhibits it. Booze acts as a red light for glutamate and a green light for Gaba.

Think about that for a moment. Gaba hinders communication and glutamate helps it. Booze helps the hinderer and hinders the helper. In Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, Lewis describes what happened when he got drunk for the first time: “The sites of glutamate transmission become numbed and ineffective, so information flow is now sluggish, with big signals still getting through while small signals fade into static.” Furthermore: “It’s Gaba’s job to fine-tune thought and perception, to clarify things, but now things are clear to the point of caricature … In other words, I am thinking about very little, but I am thinking about it with magnificent clarity.”

Alcohol, then, stops you thinking too much. It slows down the hamster wheel of anxiety. It simplifies. It redacts. Of course, that’s not all it does. It also tampers with the brain’s reward circuit. When you drink, another neurotransmitter, dopamine, is sent all over the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of anticipation, of excitement, of wanting more. Dopamine floods your brain with a sort of excited hunger, the sensation of being in thrall to something. The American writer Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote a book about her addictions called More, Now, Again ; this raw desire is a good description of how a surge of dopamine makes you feel. As the famous drinker Kingsley Amis once said, it’s not about being drunk, it’s about getting drunk. It’s about that magic moment of rapture on the way to somewhere else. The sweet spot – the exact moment when anticipation and reward are in perfect balance.

I began to notice something about the perfect balance. It seemed to be getting more elusive. The amount of euphoria and excitement a drink could provide, measured in intensity and time, seemed to be diminishing. That’s because, when you tamper with the brain, it always tries to undo the tampering. When you trick it, it gets wise. When you flood it with chemicals to make it feel rewarded, it will find ways to feel that reward a bit less intensely. So you need to drink a bit more to get the same buzz. And then more, and yet more. In the short term, Lewis explained, desire increases as the reward gets closer. But over the longer term, the dopamine surge of desire is never equalled by the “second surge”, when you actually swallow the drink. Desire grows as fulfillment shrinks; anticipation nags as reward becomes less rewarding.

Something happens to the prefrontal cortex, the centre of decision-making in the brain. Imagine every thought you might have as a narrow pathway. Now imagine an obsessive, dopamine-fuelled thought happening over and over. It becomes a trunk road, and eventually a motorway. There are no other routes. You find yourself in a difficult situation. You want to drink, but drinking is making you ill. You feel ill, but you want a drink. You are full of wanting. So you drink. And it doesn’t work like it used to.

I n her memoir Drinking: A Love Story, the late American writer Caroline Knapp said that there was a fine line between problem drinking and full-on alcoholism, but that, as a drinker, you never see it. You cross it without knowing you’re crossing it. I’ve known other people who are about to cross the line, or who have already crossed it. I’ve talked to them about their drinking. They tell me they don’t drink very much, or that they’re cutting down, easing up, limiting themselves to one or two. I can tell they’re not telling the truth. They are lying to me, they are lying to themselves. These conversations make me angry, largely with my former self.

I sometimes wonder when I started lying to myself. It wasn’t at school. At school I was full of bravado: “I had the vodka, and then a can of Breaker, and then a pint of Kronenbourg … ” Nor in my 20s. In my 20s the bravado still existed; drinking carried a certain status. The lying, the deception, must have started in my 30s. Buying five bottles of wine instead of four. Stashing bottles around the house. Drinking part of a bottle of whisky in someone else’s house, and then a bit more, and realising you need to buy a new bottle, and hoping you can get away with it. Caroline Knapp writes about drinking someone’s port, and buying a new bottle, and trying to pour precisely the right amount out of the new bottle to make it look right.

You cross the line when you start lying to yourself. But you never know where the line is. Colin Drummond said that some people go out after work with colleagues and have a single drink, then go home and spend the rest of the evening drinking on their own. I had done a similar thing, but at one step removed. I would go out with colleagues, who liked to drink a few drinks, then I’d go to meet some other friends who liked to drink yet more, and then, late at night, I’d find myself in an after-hours bar with people who liked to drink deep into the night. We’d snort lines of cocaine, which would keep us awake, so we could drink more. I remember emerging from an after-hours bar, walking up the basement steps to pavement level, and seeing that it was already light. Not only light, but sunny. That was a dark moment. It kept happening, that moment.

William Leith.

I didn’t stop drinking. Not right then. I carried on, knowing I needed to do something. But drinking had me stuck in a rut. The decision-making zone of my brain had become excellent at making a single type of decision: drink! I walked along the street, trying to duck into the shadows. I hailed a taxi, went home, fell asleep.

At a certain point, the sweet spot begins to disappear. You search for it. You search for it by drinking more. The hangovers get worse. You spend at least half of each day fighting a hangover. You lie in bed until the last possible moment. You have sharp pains behind your eyes. You feel paranoid and anxious. You sweat. Your sweat reeks of booze. You like yourself less and less. So you drink. It works, a bit. Then a bit less.

And then, 15 years ago, came the beginning of the end. Every problem drinker who decides to quit drinking has a story like this. I’d been out drinking. I was drunk. I had a feeling of not drinking enough, of wanting more, and I came home and went into the kitchen. There was a half-full bottle of vodka in the freezer. I poured some vodka into a glass, and topped up the glass with orange juice, and drank it. Then I poured the rest of the vodka into the glass, added orange juice, and drank that, and the vodka was gone. I was filled with a powerful urge to drink: finally, the sweet spot. All I had to do was go to the shop across the road. I looked out of the window – the shop was closed. I’d missed it by five minutes. The urgency left me, and I just went to bed.

I didn’t think about any of this for weeks, or even months. But I remembered it as January approached. “I’ll quit,” I thought. And “Really.” And: “Until my birthday.” Ten years later, I would have my last drink.

‘H ow much were you drinking, at your peak?” asked Colin Drummond. My answer came quickly: two bottles of wine a day. That’s what I tell myself I drank. Eight large drinks a day. Fifty-six drinks per week. I remember somebody saying that the recommended amount was 28 units. “That can’t be right,” I said. “I don’t drink 28 units per day – more like 25.” Of course, the recommended amount was 28 units per week. Now it’s 14. And that’s the upper limit. Two bottles of wine doesn’t sound so bad. But I was drinking too much by a factor of 10.

I spent 10 years drinking out of control, and 10 years quitting.

Why did I drink? I drank because I was anxious, because it helped me talk to people, because worrying about my drinking helped me to stop worrying about other things, things that really stressed me out, such as writing. Drinking relieves stress, and then causes it, but the stress caused by drinking, at least for a while, helps to screen out your real worries. And then drinking becomes a real worry. You cross the line, but you don’t see it, so you keep on going.

“A familiar story,” Colin Drummond said, after I’d told him everything. I had some unhappiness in my teenage years. I was at boarding school. I started drinking early. Looking at my family, there might be a genetic component. I had wanted to be an academic, but ended up as a journalist, a profession that often gives rise to drinking problems. A susceptible brain had been placed in the firing line. A perfect storm. Case closed.

Why did I stop? Lots of people ask me this question. I have lots of answers. For health reasons. For mental health reasons. Because it wasn’t worth it. Because it had run its course. Because I didn’t want to feel ill all the time. Because it had ruined me. Because I couldn’t just have one. Or two. Or three. I was obsessed with it. I couldn’t see a happy ending. A long time ago, it had made me feel good, but something had changed. People have told me quitting is hard. They ask me why it was easy for me. I don’t know, I say. I kept giving abstinence a chance. Abstinence won.

It’s been five years now. Sobriety is awesome. My brain really does believe that. Being sober is much better than I thought it would be five years ago, in the early hours of 1 January. But that wasn’t the real turning point. The real turning point came 120 days later, on my birthday, the day I was due to start drinking again. I was sitting in a restaurant with my girlfriend. She asked me if I was going to order wine. Up until that moment, I had assumed I would. But something happened in my brain. An unexpected decision. “No,” I said. “I think I won’t.”

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Drinking: A Love Story

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Caroline Knapp

Drinking: A Love Story Paperback – May 12, 1997

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  • Print length 304 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • Publication date May 12, 1997
  • Dimensions 5.25 x 0.62 x 7.94 inches
  • ISBN-10 9780385315548
  • ISBN-13 978-0385315548
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  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ 0385315546
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dial Press Trade Paperback (May 12, 1997)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9780385315548
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0385315548
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 2.31 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.25 x 0.62 x 7.94 inches
  • #73 in Alcoholism Recovery
  • #327 in Women's Biographies
  • #999 in Memoirs (Books)

About the author

Caroline knapp.

Caroline Knapp (November 8, 1959 – June 3, 2002) was an American writer and columnist whose candid best-selling memoir Drinking: A Love Story recounted her 20-year battle with alcoholism. She was the daughter of noted psychiatrist Peter H. Knapp, who did groundbreaking research into psychosomatic medicine.

Knapp grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and graduated from Brown University. From 1988–95, she was a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, where her column "Out There" often featured the fictional "Alice K." In 1994, those columns were collected in her first book, Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity, and the Perfect New Shoes.

Knapp won wide acclaim for Drinking: A Love Story (1996), which described her life as a "high-functioning alcoholic" and remained on the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks. She followed Drinking with Pack of Two, also a best-seller, which recounted her relationship with her dog Lucille and humans' relationships with dogs in general.

Knapp started smoking in her 20s and never stopped. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2002. In May 2002, she married her longtime friend and companion, photographer Mark Morelli.

She died in Cambridge of lung cancer on June 3, 2002. Two books of hers were published after her death: Appetites: Why Women Want, which described Knapp's experience with anorexia and other women's struggles with addictions, and The Merry Recluse, a collection of essays.

Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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Drinking: A Love Story

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68 pages • 2 hours read

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Prologue-Chapter 1

Chapters 2-4

Chapters 5-7

Chapters 8-10

Chapters 11-13

Chapters 14-16

Key Figures

Symbols & Motifs

Important Quotes

Essay Topics

Discussion Questions

Chapter 8 Summary: “Addiction”

Chapter 8 begins with Knapp noting how heavy, chronic drinking can damage virtually every organ in the human body. She notes how alcoholism is the leading cause of liver disease in the United States and increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, sexual dysfunction, infertility, and many other medical problems. Alcohol and violence are also linked. Experts estimate that it’s a factor in nearly half of all homicides and a third of all suicides. For these reasons, Knapp likens her love affair with drinking to playing with fire.

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Drinking: A Love Story Short Essay - Answer Key

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

1. How does alcohol affect Knapp's relationships, emotions, and thoughts?

The addictiveness of drink impaired Knapp's ability to grow emotionally and personally.

2. How were Knapp's personal and professional lives different?

Professionally, Knapp was smart, productive, and always willing to work. Personally, she was spiraling out of control from her drinking.

3. Describe the event that got Knapp to quit drinking.

Knapp was visiting her friend Jennifer for Thanksgiving. After drinking too much, she began to play games with Jennifer's two young daughters. She put one child on her back and the other around her front. Knapp, now weighed down by 130 pounds worth of children's weight, runs up and down the street. She trips and comes crashing down onto the pavement. Thankfully, Knapp does not harm either of the children.

4. Describe Knapp's relationship with alcohol.

Knapp fell absolutely head over heels in love with alcohol. But the love she had for the drinking ruined everything she actually cared about.

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  1. Drinking a Love Story by Caroline Knapp Free Essay Example

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  1. Drinking: A Love Story Summary & Study Guide

    This study guide contains the following sections: This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. Drinking: A Love Story, is the powerful, truthful memoir of Caroline Knapp. In the novel, Knapp details her long, involved, and tortured love affair with alcohol.

  2. Drinking: A Love Story Essay Topics

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

  3. Drinking: A Love Story Summary and Study Guide

    Subsequent chapters of Drinking: A Love Story explore different themes of Knapp's journey into and out of alcohol dependency while introducing readers to important people she interacts with along the way. Chapter 1 examines love from several angles. Knapp introduces the metaphor of alcoholism as a love affair with drinking, and she starts to discuss some of the ways her family expresses and ...

  4. Substance Abuse. Drinking by Caroline Knapp Essay

    The Client's Presenting Problem. Drinking a love story by Caroline describes a life of an alcoholic daughter of rich parents. Excessive wealth, love, and carelessness from her parents caused her to adopt life-threatening habits. She, later on, started consuming alcohol. She indulged in alcoholism so much that her life was completely devastated.

  5. Analysis Of Drinking A Love Story By Knapp

    Knapp begins Drinking A Love Story by making it known to the readers in the prologue, a brief overview regarding what happened in the memoir by saying "I fell in love and then, because the love was ruining everything I cared about, I had to fall out" (Knapp 1). This briefly gave the readers a grasp on the order of the story.

  6. Summary of Drinking, a Love Story

    2443 Words 10 Pages. Part I: A. Introduction: Drinking, A Love Story, Written by Caroline Knapp: Is an insider's story about fighting the battle of alcoholism and addiction, victoriously winning sobriety. Caroline Knapp fought her addiction for 20 years before becoming sober. "The Drink" as she called it, was her true love.

  7. On Elissa Washuta's "Drinking Story"

    8 January 2023. On "Drinking Story" by Elissa Washuta (found in Best American Essays 2022) Washuta's piece takes the standard CNF essay and runs it through a bartender's blender. All the elements of plot are washed out, diluted, muted, and mixed. In her piece, Washuta even admits that she's mangled Freytag's pyramid:

  8. Drinking: A Love Story

    Drinking: A Love Story, is the powerful, truthful memoir of Caroline Knapp. In the novel, Knapp details her long, involved, and tortured love affair with alcohol. She describes the effect of alcohol on her relationships, emotions, and thoughts. The addictiveness of drink impaired her ability to grow emotionally and personally.

  9. Drinking: A Love Story Themes

    The drinker forgoes self-discovery for so long that they become unsure of who they are, uncertain which version of their self is the true one. This causes discomfort, which leads to more drinking, which leads to more problems, from relationship issues to legal trouble. Comfort becomes virtually impossible but the alcoholic will keep drinking in ...

  10. Drinking A Love Story Knapp Essay

    Download Full Essay. For a recovering alcoholic, it may seem the temptation to drink is overwhelming and ubiquitous. Alcohol can even be considered normative to the point that people who abstain are considered deviant. As Knapp points out in Chapter 16 of Drinking: A Love Story, recovery is a daily, sometimes hourly struggle as she longs to ...

  11. Drinking: A Love Story Essay Topics & Writing Assignments

    This comprehensive lesson plan includes 30 daily lessons, 180 multiple choice questions, 20 essay questions, 20 fun activities, and more - everything you need to teach Drinking: A Love Story!

  12. Caroline Knapp's " Drinking: A Love Story" Narrative Essay 13584

    Caroline Knapp's " Drinking: A Love Story" Narrative Essay by The Research Group. Caroline Knapp's " Drinking: A Love Story" ... "This paper is an examination of Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, an account of her passionate love affair with alcohol and the events, thoughts, and realizations that eventually led her to renounce her "lover

  13. How I let drinking take over my life

    I n her memoir Drinking: A Love Story, the late American writer Caroline Knapp said that there was a fine line between problem drinking and full-on alcoholism, but that, as a drinker, you never ...

  14. Caroline Knapp

    Notable works. Drinking: A Love Story. Caroline Knapp (November 8, 1959 - June 3/4, 2002) was an American writer and columnist whose candid best-selling memoir Drinking: A Love Story recounted her 20-year battle with alcoholism. She was the daughter of noted psychiatrist Peter H. Knapp, who was a researcher of psychosomatic medicine.

  15. Drinking: A Love Story Key Figures

    Caroline Knapp is the author and narrator of Drinking: A Love Story. The book's central character, she is an alcoholic who has achieved sobriety after a long struggle. Knapp comes from a relatively-privileged Massachusetts family, one that is comfortable financially and has ties to the Ivy League. Her family expects her to do well in school ...

  16. Drinking: A Love Story

    Knapp won wide acclaim for Drinking: A Love Story (1996), which described her life as a "high-functioning alcoholic" and remained on the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks. ... Knapp's experience with anorexia and other women's struggles with addictions, and The Merry Recluse, a collection of essays. Bio from Wikipedia, the free ...

  17. Drinking a Love Story by Caroline Knapp Free Essay Example

    Drinking a love story by Caroline describes a life of an alcoholic daughter of rich parents. Excessive wealth, love and carelessness from her parents caused her to adopt life threatening habits. She later on started consuming alcohol. She indulged in alcoholism so much that her life was completely devastated.

  18. Drinking: A Love Story Lesson Plans for Teachers

    The Drinking: A Love Story lesson plan contains a variety of teaching materials that cater to all learning styles. Inside you'll find 30 Daily Lessons, 20 Fun Activities, 180 Multiple Choice Questions, 60 Short Essay Questions, 20 Essay Questions, Quizzes/Homework Assignments, Tests, and more. The lessons and activities will help students gain ...

  19. Drinking: A Love Story

    Chapter 8 Summary: "Addiction". Chapter 8 begins with Knapp noting how heavy, chronic drinking can damage virtually every organ in the human body. She notes how alcoholism is the leading cause of liver disease in the United States and increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, sexual dysfunction, infertility, and many other ...

  20. Drinking: A Love Story

    Drinking: A Love Story - A Review In Caroline Knapp's autobiography entitled, Drinking: A Love Story, you learn from her own personal tewenty year battle with alcoholism, why people drink, why people become alcohlics, and how hard it is to break the cycle of alcoholism.

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  22. Drinking: A Love Story Short Essay

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