On the Rocks

For Koren Zailckas, writing Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood was a sobering experience.

"I've spent the last year thinking about every horrible thing I've done or said when I was drunk," notes the author, who will be at the Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek on Thursday, February 17. "The last thing I want to do is drink now. I wanted to stop using alcohol as a shortcut to feeling okay about myself, or making friendships that were lasting, or feeling uncomfortable around men."

Zailckas's memoir is hardly the first to catalogue a writer's descent to the bottom of the bottle, but it stands out from the pack in part because the author is such an unlikely candidate for a drinking problem. She was born into an affluent, trauma-free family with no history of alcoholism. So what triggered her self-abusive behavior? "Going to college," she says, in reference to her stint at Syracuse University. "We think heavy social drinking is part of the college experience, and unfortunately, there weren't enough people out there until recently who've been trying to understand why that is and what's wrong with it. Once I got to college, I was in a really insulated environment, where I was overwhelmed with the amount of free time I had -- and the easiest way to kill that free time was to go to a liquor store, a party or a bar." She didn't stop bingeing even after becoming a victim of acquaintance rape. Only the self-loathing that overwhelmed her years later, during a New Year's Eve celebration gone sour, convinced her to set down her glass for good.

In the year-plus that Zailckas has been alcohol-free, she's become a strong critic of university policies toward intoxicants. She points out that in 1996, a former official with the University of Colorado at Boulder, where at least one alcohol-related death took place last year, floated the idea of issuing "drinking licenses" to underage students, ostensibly so they could learn to tipple responsibly. A better approach, she believes, are "required college classes, where you sit down and analyze alcohol ads and talk about what compels you to drink." In her view, "kids need to learn to look at this stuff critically, before it's too late."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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