Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America, by Beth Macy - Book Review

If you’re looking for an uplifting read, pass this one up. If you’re interested in serious anecdotal and statistical research into the opioid epidemic in this country, read it.

Macy focuses mainly on the epidemic in and around her home town of Roanoke and in some of the poorer white areas of the Appalachia’s, but the book is global in its application.

 Macy interviewed and garnered the confidence of numerous users, users’ families and even a drug dealer, serving a 23-year prison sentence for heroin distribution. Interestingly, that dealer never did ‘herr-on’ as he refers to heroin. He was wise enough to know that his using would only result in his own addiction which would eat into his profits. While he might be a large fish in the dealing pond, he is hardly responsible for the epidemic. Many of the white addicts he sold to turned into dealers themselves just so they could fund their own habits. And small time players can make addicts just as quickly as big ones.  

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"Between Breaths", A Story of Addiction and Recovery, by Elizabeth Vargas - Book Review

Her fantasy: “Sipping a golden elixir from a beautiful piece of stemware while a steady amber glow settles over your world.”

Her reality: “Staring in the bathroom mirror at the miserable woman in the glass, gulping down her wine from a plastic cup.”

Elizabeth Vargas was gripped by the illusion of many alcoholics that she could figure out a way to drink like a normal person despite clear, consistent evidence to the contrary. Eventually, finally, she realized she could not manage alcohol as a part of her existence. With it, her life was completely unmanageable. Without it, maybe she had a fighting chance.

Vargas was a game changer in the news world, becoming the second female anchor (Connie Chung was the first) of a network world nightly news program. She reported on the ground from the Iraq war, covered both Amanda Knox trials in Italy, reported on the Elian Gonzalez controversy and interviewed President Bush. She married successful singer-song writer, Marc Cohn, and they had two lovely boys together.

From outside looking in, she had it all. But Vargas speaks of her sometimes paralyzing anxiety in great detail. Starting early in her life, panic attacks gripped her and continued, even during her most successful and visible days as a leading woman in the news. Initially, she found that a glass of wine or two made her high stress life just a little more tolerable. Until it wasn’t just a glass or two but large quantities that she went to great pains to try and hide from those close to her.  

Vargas writes with sophistication and grace about her drinking history but her stories are no different than those of alcoholics with less education, stature, success and wealth. It took repeated rehab stays, destroying her family, and self-induced, life threatening experiences before she could come to terms with the fact that she was not “terminally unique”: neither in her drinking habits nor in her internal demons.

While she’s sometimes hard to relate to because of her success and notoriety, when she opens up about her inability to control her drinking and the roads it led her down, she’s just another drunk telling a story.

Her beauty, class and grace in looks and storytelling stand as a stark reminder that alcoholism is indiscriminate in its victims and that you don’t ever actually know what it is going on in someone’s life unless they tell you. Vargas didn’t have to tell this story, but she did so in order to share her experience, strength and hope (an AA mantra) with others.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Elizabeth's rating: 3.5 stars

Can Addiction be Dark and Funny? Perhaps, in "How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir", by Cat Marnell - Book Review

What exactly does murdering one’s life entail? Cat Marnell’s biography about her experiences as an alcohol soaked, drug riddled magazine beauty editor give you a front row seat into how she murdered hers.

[BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD]

After reading over 300 pages about Marnell’s teeth gritting addictions and accompanying behaviors, I cannot express my level of disappointment to find out, at the end, that she didn’t get sober. Despite her raw exposure of the tortuous life she led, the jobs she lost, the abuse she suffered, the friends she screwed over, the family she manipulated, only to find out that she is still using, was a severe letdown.

To give credit where credit is due, Marnell is a fantastic storyteller and skilled writer. As she’s recounting some of her more harrowing experiences, she manages to do it in such a cavalier, causal way, that only after a few pages do you realize the severity of what she has just disclosed. She also has an acerbic wit. Her banter warms you to her and makes you feel as though she’s just telling you her story. 

Marnell seems to understand the dangers of her addiction. At one point she asks the reader, “is reading this stuff getting repetitive? Welcome to addiction.” The highs she describes do not read as fun. They read as desperate and edgy, painful both physically and mentally. The lows, as one can imagine, are soul crushing.

That is why her ending is so unsatisfying. Why take the time to expose your pain and agony in this shocking regard only to continue on the same path? In her epilogue, she alleges she’s cut out all the “hard stuff” as well as alcohol. I know the latter is not true, though, because I checked out her Twitter page which is rife with photos of booze.

If you’re interested in reading the well-written, harrowing biography of a drug addict who isn’t clean, I recommend How to Murder Your Life fully. If you read these kinds of books to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, skip it.

Perhaps Ms. Marnell is just doing research for her REAL foray into sobriety. For her sake, I hope she finds it.

Published: 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Elizabeth's rating: Halfway down the middle, 2.5