Drinking: A Love Story Summary & Study Guide

Caroline Knapp

Drinking: A Love Story

  • 66-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 16 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree in English
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Drinking: A Love Story Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 66-page guide for “Drinking: A Love Story” by Caroline Knapp includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 16 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Drinking as Transformation and Escape and Leading a Double Life.

Plot Summary

Drinking: A Love Story is Caroline Knapp’s 1997 memoir about her alcoholism and recovery. Knapp examines how her relationship with alcohol turned into a dangerous love affair that threatened to destroy her life. She also explores important aspects of her family life and romantic relationships, both of which contributed to her addiction and were impeded by her drinking.

Knapp begins the book with a prologue that helps the reader understand why she quit drinking. She explains how she exercises “supremely bad judgment” after drinking too much and how this choice could have killed her friend’s two young daughters (xv). Knapp places blame on herself, rather than circumstances or other people. This stands in marked contrast to her framing of troublesome events when she is actively drinking. Instead of recognizing her part in conflicts and other unpleasant events, she tends to focus on others’ roles, or assume that bad things just happen to her.

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 suppresses love. She explains how drinking can seem as natural as affection, and how addiction revolves around a neediness that people often mistake for love.

In Chapter 2, Knapp digs into the concept of a double life, noting how alcoholics are often good at hiding their addiction from others through frequent use of secrets, dishonesty, and other deceptive tactics. She notes how alcohol gives her alternate personas to hide behind, versions of herself that she likes better than her real self. Knapp then reflects on her family and upbringing in Chapter 3, noting how certain elements of her childhood and her relationships with her parents may have set the stage for addiction. For example, she discusses how her father had a tendency to make her feel exposed and anxious, and how a troubled son from his previous marriage cast a shadow on his relationship with her mother.

Chapter 4 uses the concept of hunger to define and discuss addiction. Knapp explains how alcoholics and other types of addicts struggle with a strong, persistent neediness that they can’t ignore, try as they might. She also talks about ways the physical, psychological, and emotional components of alcoholism intertwine, making it a difficult disease to understand and treat. In Chapter 5, Knapp mentions some of the reasons people drink, including her own, and shows how these reasons can foster an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. She says:

alcoholism feels like the culmination of dozens of tiny fears and hungers and rages, dozens of experiences and memories that collect in the bottom of your soul, coalescing over many many many drinks into a single liquid solution (74).

Chapter 6 delves into some of the roles alcohol can play in sex and people’s expression of their sexuality. Knapp emphasizes how women often use alcohol to make their sexual encounters more tolerable, which can complicate matters involving sex and consent. Chapters 7 and 8 deal with addiction, the different forms it can take, and the common practice of substituting one type of addiction for another. Knapp explains how she began responding to anxiety and other strong, tough-to-manage emotions with anorexic behavior and later traded this addiction for alcoholism: “When I was starving, I couldn’t think about the deeper motives, couldn’t contemplate the fact that I was young and scared and sexually threatened and angry,” she explains, adding that alcohol later helped her drown out these difficult concerns (142).

Denial is the focus of Chapter 10, which Knapp identifies as one of the most essential features of alcoholism. She admits that rationalizing her alcohol use, for instance by finding someone with a more severe drinking problem to compare herself to, helped her think her drinking was no cause for alarm for years. Knapp then discusses the ways alcohol can trick the drinker into thinking drinking makes them stronger, happier, more relaxed, and more likable in Chapter 11.

In Chapter 12, Knapp recalls her first AA meeting and a therapy appointment that set the stage for her decision to become sober. Chapter 13 returns to the idea of a double life. Knapp describes how duplicitous behavior shaped her relationships with two men she was dating concurrently. Knapp explains how she “maintained an illusion of availability and devotion in both relationships that didn’t truly exist,” and how this deception and its attending drama can become addictive as well (200).

Knapp concludes the book with chapters that detail the lowest points of her alcohol addiction (Chapter 14), her first steps toward sobriety (Chapter 15), and her continuing efforts to live an addiction-free life (Chapter 16). Knapp characterizes her descent to the nadir of alcoholism as a loss of control marked by an inability to gain pleasure from drinking. Her experience in rehab and her early trips to AA meetings show her ways that she can regain control of her life by learning to tolerate difficult emotions and addressing problems rather than waiting for someone else to do it. In the final chapter, she reflects on some of the perspective she has gained in becoming sober, especially through interacting with a supportive community of AA attendees. She also expresses hope and gratitude for her relationship with Michael.

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