How Novelist Joyce Maynard Realized She Had a Drinking Problem

UnderInfluenceWEBIn a candid 3-part series for The Huffington Post, Drinking Diaries book and blog contributor, Joyce Maynard, reveals how writing her new novel, “Under the Influence,” led her to examine her increasingly fraught relationship with alcohol. We can’t wait to read her new novel. Below is an excerpt from her Huffington Post piece:

“I was reading a book I wrote when I realized: I had to give up drinking.

This happened a few months back. I had just finished writing this novel, and was reading it over one more time, the way I always do before a piece of my work is published. And it was hearing my own words about addiction to alcohol, spoken in the voice of my fictional character, that revealed to me what my daily morning headache, and my trips to the recycling bin with all those empty bottles, had not.

There was a reason why I had been able to get into the head of a woman who had a problem with alcohol. I had one too.”

To read the entire post, click here.


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Interview with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Editor of the Fiction Anthology, “Singapore Noir”

Tan.Author Photo.byJohn SearlesFrom time to time, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is the New York-based editor of “Singapore Noir,” a new fiction anthology, and author of “A Tiger In The Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family”.  She is currently working on her first novel.

Tan was a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal, In Style magazine and the Baltimore Sun. Her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Marie Claire, and Newsweek among other publications. “Singapore Noir” was just named one of Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month: Mystery” for June.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan: I was about 15 or 16, which sounds early, except that in Singapore, where I grew up, the drinking age is 18 and teenagers being what they are anywhere in the world, you figure out a way to sneak into places you’re not supposed to go. I didn’t much care for alcohol then though — and drinks are rather expensive in Singaporean bars and clubs — so it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Back then, vodka Ribenas were the rage in Singapore so that’s probably what my first drink was. It’s like vodka cranberry but much more delicious. I love Ribena, a British blackcurrant syrup, in a cocktail.

How did/does your family treat drinking? 

My father briefly worked for a company that distributed liquor in Asia when I was a child so I may have drinking to thank for my college education! I have this very vivid memory of my father coming home from the end of a long work day, pouring a glass of Chivas and stretching out on the balcony to unwind for a bit. I’ve never been a big whiskey drinker myself but I’ll always associate that drink with my dad. When we have a special family dinner these days though, wine — Bordeaux, red — is typically the beverage of choice.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

It’s not part of my every day life unless I’m seeing friends — I’ve never been a writer who can write while buzzed (even a little sip of something light will throw me off) so I tend to avoid it when I’m in the thick of a book. I never drink during the day unless I’m on holiday. (How can one say no to that little lunchtime splash when you’re having the most perfect meal on the sunny Sicilian Coast?) It’s a marvelous social lubricant though — I love sitting at a large dinner table with friends with a few bottles of splendid wine, good nibbles and hours and hours to just gab and laugh.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?SingaporeNoir_LoRes

It’s funny — people sometimes joke that now that I don’t have to be in an office every day and I write books, I’m probably drinking all the time a la Hemingway. But I probably drank more frequently in the twelve years I worked full-time as a journalist! I love the newsroom culture of grabbing a beer at the end of the day with your colleagues when you’ve all survived deadline, filed all your stories and you’re looking for that cold fresh something to cap another intense day of putting the paper out. When I worked as a cub reporter in the Annapolis, Maryland, bureau of the Baltimore Sun, our editors knew that on Fridays, if it was past five p.m., to call the bar — the Ram’s Head — across the street if they had questions about our stories. I love how that was one of the first things explained to me when I started in that bureau.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

I adore gin gimlets, straight up. I love anything very tart and tangy and the lime in it always perks me up.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

A quiet autumn evening on the Ligurian Coast a few years ago, my ex and I found ourselves in teeny tiny Manarola, a town so small it seemed to just have four restaurants and a bar. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we first walked into Cantina dello Zio Bramante for an after-dinner drink — it was an intimate dark space, filled with tourists from various bits of the world who had somehow found themselves in Cinque Terre during the off-season and several locals. At first, the groups kept to themselves — British students from Oxford in one corner, Swiss backpackers in another, the old Italian guys who lived around the corner scattered around. After a few drinks, the owner of the bar pulled out a guitar, started strumming songs and the entire bar just automatically began singing along. (We found that Beatles tunes were the ones everyone, regardless of age or nationality, seemed to know the words to.) At some point an elderly Italian guy suddenly sprang to his feet and started belting out O Sole Mio with impressive gusto. You couldn’t have scripted it better. We all left feeling like we’d stumbled upon a truly special evening.

What about the worst time?

No comment!

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking? 

If you haven’t read Lawrence Osborne’s “The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey,” you must.

What do you like most about drinking?

There’s something very appealing about having that chilled glass of Sancerre to look forward to at the end of a long, hard writing day.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

A strong, spicy Bloody Mary. I love how complex and heady the drink can be if done well — peppery, vinegary, salty, tart, and all of that bound together with the sweetness of tomatoes and divine when cut with a shot of green freshness from biting that crunchy celery stick. (I was at a Cape Cod restaurant recently with a Bloody Mary buffet that allowed you to add ingredients such as crispy bacon to your drink — lovely.) A good Bloody Mary bites and invigorates — that’s a drink that can really smack you around.

Author Photo by John Searles

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Interview with Gabrielle Glaser, author of “Her Best-Kept Secret,” A Book About Women and Drinking

gabrielle glaserFrom time to time, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Gabrielle Glaser is the author of the newly released book, Her Best-Kept Secret, in which she investigates the reasons behind the epidemic of female drinking in this country, our strange national history with alcohol, and the many ways in which women can get better. She has taught journalism and has written for many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and ScientificAmerican.com. She is also the author of Strangers to the Tribe: Portraits of Interfaith Marriage, and The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty, and Survival.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?  

Gabrielle Glaser: I had my first drink at 14, on New Year’s Eve at my grandparents’ house. It was a couple of sips of champagne. My French-Canadian grandfather gave it to me. At my age, he had become the man of the house — his dad and older brother had died. Also, he had a different cultural model. I felt it right away and was really afraid my mom would be mad at me so I sat in a chair and was quiet for the whole night. I didn’t like how it made me feel, either, and just wanted it to go away.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My family of origin drank very sparingly, on special occasions. Wine wasn’t big in Oregon in the 1970s and my parents’ drinking was reserved for weddings, vacations, and fancy restaurants. My dad ordered Black Russians and my mom occasionally ordered a cocktail. Once she ordered a Blue Hawaii and I thought it was just the most beautiful thing ever — a popsicle in a glass.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

Like most other women I know, wine is a regular part of my life. I really enjoy it. I have a small glass (4 oz., which I offer only because people ask) as I’m making dinner at 7:30 and then another one with dinner if I’m drinking that night. I don’t drink every day, but that’s my typical pattern. My husband and I enjoy it. I lived with a family in France when I was in college and that’s how they drank, which was a model of moderation.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?  Her Best-Kept Secret cover 2

I have drunk like this in front of my kids since they were very little. Drinking at home is not forbidden once they get to be older teens. They have a sip or a glass. My oldest daughter is 20 and is a foodie so she is always interested in pairings.

My time in France made a big impact on me. I was 20 when I was there, and my host parents also poured a glass for their then-14-year-old son. It was a revelation, and very different from how my culture looked at kids and drinking. I know there are many studies that show French youths are now drinking more like young Brits and Americans, but that’s because that form of drinking has been glamorized on reality TV, and every generation needs a rebellion. I was in Paris a few years ago and saw giant photos of Snooki pasted in the Metro. I felt a little embarrassed.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?   

Yes. I was moving from Portland, Oregon back to the New York area in 2008, leaving my parents, my in-laws, my sister, and a state where I had roots stretching 150 years. My teenaged daughters were miserable, my then six-year-old daughter was mystified, and my sister and I weren’t speaking very much (we normally talk about six times a day). My parents were sad. My in-laws, who had moved to be near us, were sad. I was trying to sell a house in Portland and buy one in New Jersey. I had strangers traipsing through and making comments about “all the Jewish stuff” in my house. I had quit my job. My heart felt like a car alarm. So to answer your question, for a few weeks I started drinking at 5 and by 7:30 had downed 2/3 of a bottle. It was a salve for the anxiety for part of the evening, but it basically made me completely lazy and unable to finish the stuff I needed to get done. I quit for a few weeks and went back to normal, but it demonstrated how easily and imperceptibly you could develop an unhealthy habit.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

This is really sort of embarrassing because it’s the drink of choice of about 70% of the women I know: Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I like it because it’s not too sweet, and it tastes like grapefruit. I get headaches from red wine so I have to be careful. I wish I could drink it because it smells so delicious, but I usually regret it.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking? 

I was in Brazil as a graduate student and one night went out to a club with a bunch of Brazilian friends. The club was outdoors, just off the beach, and I could see Sugarloaf Mountain from where I sat. The breeze was coming off the sea and everyone was talking and so happy and we were all dancing. I had a caipiroshka, which is basically a gimlet. It somehow made me more fluent in Portuguese, which I had studied intensively but it made me less worried about whether I was saying the right thing. I had to pinch myself because it was such a beautiful night. Late that night, we also drank tiny glasses of muddled passion fruit with a little bit of vodka. That was delicious, too. What’s interesting in cultures where dance is key is that you don’t see a lot of people overdrinking. Dancing is a more important release than drinking.

What about the worst time?  

The worst time was the first and really only time I ever got drunk. I was a freshman in college and kids in my dorm came up with the brilliant idea to have a “Get Drunk and Fall Down Party.” I ordered, and drank, a bottle of Cracklin’ Rose. Regrettably, I think there was also some Kahlua involved. I got really sick and hated the bed spins and have never gotten anywhere near that point again, thank G-d.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

I do drink. I love how the first glass of wine feels a little bit like Certs-with-Retsyn on the inside of my veins. I don’t like to go beyond that feeling, but I really enjoy that moment. I drink at home with my family or out for dinner or at a party and I love the levity it gives me, and others. I’m really lucky to have a shut-off valve.

You can read an excerpt from “Her Best-Kept Secret” in the Wall Street Journal online  and an interview with Gabrielle at Time.com

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Drinking and Memory Loss in Later Years

42-20045584Yesterday, I walked through the garage at the assisted living development where my mother lives. When I got to the elevator, I bumped into a 20-something pushing a cart loaded with six cases of wine, two of which were alcohol free. We waited side by side for the elevator to take us up to the lobby, when he said, “Boy, these old people can drink.” I agreed, then pointed out that my mother is one of the non-alcoholic wine drinkers. Didn’t feel the need to explain the how or why, and after we exited we said our “Have a good day” and walked in our separate directions.

Over the last several years, I have watched my mother’s memory come and go, lapse and return. She has had an MRI of her brain and does not have Alzheimer’s. But she does have a form of dementia that is, according to her doctor, related to heavy alcohol use in past  years.

study conducted in Brazil focused specifically on cognitive problems caused by heavy alcohol use among 1,145 people who were 60 years old or older. The study found that 8.2 percent of the 419 men and 726 women studied were heavy drinkers, or drinking at levels that are considered high risk. (For women, heavy drinking is four drinks or more during a day or more than seven drinks a week.)

One of the more surprising findings of the study was that heavy drinking affects the cognitive function of women more than men. “The effects of heavy alcohol use on memory and other cognitive functions were more evident in women,” said Marcos Antonio Lopes, the author of the study. “Our findings suggest that alcohol use does not have a linear relationship with cognitive decline.”

In other words, women who continue to drink heavily into their senior years run the risks of losing cognitive function and are more prone therefore to falls and significant memory loss.

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When Your Friend Is An Alcoholic

girls-drinkingby Ronna Benjamin

My friend Tammy had troubles, but it took me awhile to figure it out. She was a redhead who smoked menthols, loved music, dancing and beer.  Her father was a judge–a real one, but she herself was totally non-judgmental.

Tammy was the friend that held the ice to my ear Freshman year and then pierced a second hole in my left lobe, sterilizing the needle with the alcohol from our sloe gin fizzes.  She would drag me to frat parties,  grab a beer and start dancing, while I stood awkwardly in a corner complaining about the sticky floor.

I was one of the girls who left the party early, but Tammy always stayed and regaled us with great stories the next day. But as we got to be juniors and then seniors, the stories became increasingly uncomfortable to hear. There were times she slept with multiple men in one evening.  There were times when she blacked out.  There were times she woke up in places she did not want to be.

There was the time she came back to the dorm drunk at 3:00 am and burnt half her arm making popcorn.  There was the time she tearily told me she was pregnant, traces of gin on her breath, and pleaded with me to bring her to Planned Parenthood. I had driven halfway there the next day before she told me it wasn’t true–she wasn’t pregnant.  Never was.  It  was just her idea of a joke.  That almost ended our friendship, but I hung in there.

I knew there was something different about what happened when Tammy drank, but I wanted to be non judgmental too.  By day and on weeknights, Tammy was fine.  She studied, went to movies and plays, joined us for dinner, and did really well in her classes.  I thought once we graduated and she got a job, things would be different.  We were in college, after all.

In 1981, Tammy came to visit me at my apartment in Boston where I was in my first year of law school.  We went out on the town, but after a while, I wanted to go home.  She insisted I leave; told me she was having fun and would take a cab home.  Tammy got home safely in the early hours of the morning; but the next day she told me she had shared a bottle of vodka and slept with the cab driver.

And that is when I ended the friendship.

Telling Tammy that I thought she was an alcoholic was the hardest thing I ever did as a young woman, and amongst the hardest things that I have ever had to do.  I didn’t have the balls to tell her in person.  I called her from the safety of my bedroom, reading the words off a legal pad because I was so nervous. “Tammy, I think you have a problem with alcohol.  I think you are an alcoholic, and I cannot be friends with you until you get help.”  I described some of her behaviors that made me think so.  I described the hurt and worry she was causing me.  She said nothing, and hung up.

That was 32 years ago, and that was the last time I talked to Tammy, but it wasn’t the last time I thought about her.  As the years passed, I Googled her name.  Tammy was the first name I searched on Facebook.  One day, about a year ago, she “friended” me.  I barely recognized her picture, she had aged so. We had a brief FB exchange, but neither of us mentioned the alcohol.

A few months later, Tammy started a game with me on Words With Friends.  And I knew from those games that something wasn’t quite right.  She couldn’t get beyond 13 points.  She left spaces for triple words open.

I was waiting for Tammy to take her turn on Words With Friends when I read on Facebook that Tammy had died.  She was 53 and died “unexpectedly.”  I was not in her inner circle, so I don’t know the details of her death, and it was not my place to push. I was saddened, but to be honest, not shocked.

I had an alcoholic friend in college.  I told her the truth, abandoned her, and she died at 53.  I wonder now if I should have done something differently.

*This essay was originally published on

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