I first heard of Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol (2020) by Holly Whitaker from a Cannonball review, and I was intrigued. It wasn’t the first time I’d read a book on this topic, either. Back in 2016, I found Drink by Ann Dowestt Johnston on 21 Books From The Last 5 Years That Every Woman Should Read. Johnston struggled with alcohol abuse for many years before finding her way to sobriety. She talks openly about how alcohol affected her, but also how bad alcohol is for society in general, especially women. It was the first time I’d seen alcohol depicted so negatively, and it was eye-opening.
Quit Like a Woman covers similar ground. Holly Whitaker is now sober after being addicted to alcohol and other substances. Like Johnston, Whitaker dives into the negative effects of alcohol. Among other assertions, Whitaker states that between 2002 and 2012, alcohol addiction among women rose by 84%. Alcohol is linked to at least seven cancers as well as other diseases and chronic conditions. “Women who drink three alcoholic beverages a week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer.” (35) And 90 percent of all college campus rape involves alcohol. (39)
At first I thought that Whitaker may have been exaggerating when it came to the cancer claims, so I did a little extra digging. As far as health and alcohol, I most often hear that a glass of red wine is good for your heart. But both the Mayo Clinic and CDC say that there is a cancer connection, even with moderate drinking. And both the Mayo Clinic and CDC say that if you don’t drink, don’t start drinking for health benefits. In addition, the CDC states, “The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for cancer.” Whitaker compares the tobacco industry with the alcoholic beverage industry in this section of the book, and although the two cannot be directly compared, there are some troubling similarities. Why did it take so long for people to understand the connection between smoking and lung cancer? Why do I only have vague ideas of moderate alcohol being good for you and no knowledge of the connection with cancer?
After Whitaker discusses the evils of alcohol and her own struggles, the second half of the book outlines her new company and its approach to helping people get sober. At first I was disappointed because I was expecting more of a memoir and learning about her story than a self-help book for something that I really don’t need. Although I went through some binging nights in college and law school, I never craved alcohol and did just fine without it. I also detest feeling sick, so I stopped drinking when I woke up with a headache one morning and decided it wasn’t worth it. It helped that I’m cheap, and it saved me a lot of money. I’ve only had a couple of friends that ever made an issue of it, and it definitely says more about them than me.
Even though I don’t need help with abstaining, I still found some of Whitaker’s advice helpful. Her main point is that to stop drinking, you have to be able to live with yourself. That means addressing past trauma, healthy eating, and setting yourself up for success. When you start out the day overstimulated and out of balance, by the end of the day, you need that alcohol to quiet your mind and go to sleep. But in the end, the alcohol does more harm than good. The advice about taking care of yourself, being mindful, and eating well is good advice for anyone.
Another reason I was interested in this book is that I end up working with a large number of people with mental health and addiction issues. I would like to better understand what they are going through and what can help them. Although this book was somewhat useful for that purpose, it was specifically directed towards women of means. I’m all for yoga classes, meditation, acupuncture, therapy, and vacations, but for someone living on the street, these coping mechanisms are insanely out of reach.
One other interesting point was that AA did not work for Whitaker. She points out that AA was created by white men for white men. It’s an interesting perspective. I don’t know enough about AA or Whitaker’s experience to have a strong opinion, but Whitaker made it sound like she was practically bullied and told she would fail when people found out she was getting sober on her own.
“To properly heal from addiction, we need a holistic approach. We need to create a life we don’t need to escape.” (104)
“[w]hat determines whether and how much we will struggle with addiction has far more to do with what happened to us in life than anything else.” (99)
“Addictive patterns are often misdirected attempts to manage symptoms of PTSD.” (215)
“By no longer consuming a depressant that fuels your anxiety, an anesthetic that limits the depth of your feelings, a neurotoxin that impairs brain function to the point of forgetting the best part of the night, and a poison that requires a long recovery period postconsumption, you are choosing to have fun.” (299)
I would recommend this book. I imagine that many people will find it eye-opening.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.