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Guest Post: Does the Depiction of Drugs and Addiction in the Book ‘Go Ask Alice’ Seem Realistic Today? by Patrick Bailey

Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest post by Patrick Bailey about the relevance of a 1970s cult classic, Go Ask Alice. I hope you enjoy his thoughtful consideration of the relevance and realism of the novel to today’s world.

Does the Depiction of Drugs and Addiction in the Book Go Ask Alice Seem Realistic Today?
By Patrick Bailey

The 1971 cult classic book Go Ask Alice is a work of fiction—originally marketed as “A Real Diary”—gained an enormous following and became a 1973 TV movie. It depicted drug abuse and addiction in a way that had never been written before.

Although credited to “Anonymous”, later it was attributed to a purported therapist and author named Beatrice Sparks, possibly with the assistance of at least one co-author, Linda Glovach.

Set in the late 1960s, it is supposedly the diary of an unnamed teenage girl (the title is a song lyric) who falls into addiction at age 15.

What follows is a tragic tale of her descent into self-destructive behaviors that ultimately lead to her death, presumably by overdose. The simple entries and style of the book were unique, creating a new reading experience centered on its significant and serious subject matter.

Now that it is more or less universally acknowledged as fiction, the remaining controversy concerns how relevant this book is by today’s standards.

Does Go Ask Alice depict addiction today realistically?

Social Pressures
Peer pressure, adolescent angst, stigma, and drugs are still very real in the life of a teenager.
In Go Ask Alice, the diarist is encouraged to experiment with drugs by partying friends to cope with parental dramas.

While she abstains initially, she later finds comfort and catharsis in a variety of recreational drugs, until she becomes caught up in legal trouble and confrontations with the law.

Drug Addiction
Once the diarist has become chemically dependent, her downward spiral is also very realistic by today’s standards. Many prescription opioid and heroin addicts report becoming addicted to these drugs the very first time that they try them.

In the book, the diarist becomes caught up in the lifestyle of addiction. That is, she runs away, hitchhikes across the country, and encounters a new group of damaged and drug-dependent cohorts. To pay for her drugs of choice, she finds ways to exploit herself, including prostitution and homelessness.

Treatment modalities and options have changed since the 1960s. The book does address treatment, though the diarist is unsuccessful.

During the timeline of this book, there were far fewer rehabilitative options, less access to treatment, and addiction was seen as more of a moral failing than a disease. Addiction was more of a culture than the social problem that it would later become. This is one distinction between this 1971 work of fiction and today’s world.

Though the diarist is motivated and attempts to get her life back together, she is rejected by both the straight kids and her former druggie friends. She becomes subject to harassment, threats, and forced ingestion of acid, resulting in psychiatric damage. She is hospitalized and further entangled with her former life.

While stigma and pressure are real, I am unsure that fellow-users would go to such lengths to force someone to use. People in recovery, however, are told to avoid places and people associated with their former substance abuse because they are potential triggers.

In this case, the diarist is also called a squealer, so the former friends may be trying to prevent her from telling the police of their illegal offenses.

Relapse is at the core of this novel. That’s realistic because those battling addictions are prone to relapse. Between 40–60% of those in substance abuse treatment relapse at least once.

The diarist has periods of abstinence. She begins to notice improvement across the board: relationships with her family get better, she earns others’ trust, she finds a job and even begins a healthy romance with a college student.

She gains insight and recognizes that she may need to make real human connections, that merely writing down her thoughts on paper is not enough. The mood becomes light and future-oriented. The reader has hope that the diarist will recover and be okay.

Sadly, an epilogue adds that the writer was found dead a mere three weeks later of an overdose. This brings a very solemn ending to a tragic and preventable tale. Unfortunately, this is realistic in terms of addiction today; it is estimated that over 60,000 people die each year in the US from accidental overdoses, primarily from opiates.

Go Ask Alice is captivating and paints a grim picture of addiction. It leaves the reader disappointed and disheartened. That’s by design; it’s a cautionary tale.

Know that treatment options today look a lot different than they did in the ’70s when the book first gained its readership. Now there are compassionate, evidence-based drug and alcohol treatment program options.

So, while Go Ask Alice may be dated and unrealistic by today’s treatment standards, it still depicts common themes and threads of addiction and relapse.

Go Ask Alice is a quick read but an engrossing and haunting one. It offers some solid inspiration for recovery in its 200-ish pages. Nearly 50 years later, it is still relatable.

About the Author
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.


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