Journalist Jenny Valentish investigates the female experience of drugs and alcohol, using her own story to light the way.
Her travels around Australia take her to treatment facilities and AA groups. Mining the expertise of leading researchers, she explores the early predictors of addiction, such as childhood trauma and temperament, and teenage impulsivity. Drawing on neuroscience, she explains why other self-destructive behaviours – such as eating disorders, compulsive buying and high-risk sex – can be interchangeable with problematic substance use.
In Woman of Substances, Valentish explores:
- The role of temperament: children who are unable to self-regulate their emotions or who have low resilience are at particular risk of problematic substance use.
- Impulsivity as a driver of problematic substance use. Studies have shown that while boys tend to be more impulsive, with girls, impulsivity is more directly connected to substance use.
- How heavy drinking in adolescence damages the quality of the brain’s white matter, and the effect of this damage on girls tends to be poor performance in spatial functioning (navigation, recognition, and observation of fine details). Boys tend to fare worse on focusing their attention.
- The role alcohol plays in women’s lives: stats from Hello Sunday Morning reveal that 50% of female participants normally drank after work, and 50% of those have kids. After-work drinking was found to be over two-and-a-half times more likely to be identified as an issue than weekend bingeing.
- How women’s drinking has surpassed those of men: a study found that by the end of the last century, men’s and women’s drinking were about equal, there is now evidence that women born after 1981 may be drinking at higher rates or in more harmful ways than men.
Valentish follows the pathways that women, in particular, take into addiction – and out again. Woman of Substances
is an insightful, rigorous and brutally honest read.
About the Author
Jenny Valentish is a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Saturday Paper, and former editor of Time Out Melbourne and Triple J’s Jmag. She grew up in Slough, a satellite town of London, and moved to Australia in 2006. She quit drinking in 2009, which sparked a desire to explore the drives behind addiction. She has a graduate certificate in Alcohol and Other Drugs from Turning Point/Monash University.
'Valentish mixes her own careening story with some truly fabulous research. This book taught me things I wasn't expecting about the landscape of substance use.' --Kate Holden
'A compelling blend of the sociology, psychology and physiology that drives female addiction, seasoned by the author's self-serrating humour and remarkable skill.' --Professor Marc Lewis, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto. Author of The Biology of Desire (2015) and Memoirs of an Addicted Brain (2011)
'A fabulous read. Raw, revealing, at times heartbreaking, but searingly honest and clearly aimed to support anyone who is wondering if they will ever recover from addiction. Yes, says Jenny, you can: just don't expect unicorns to visit immediately. Beautifully written, it prompts a broader discussion around the role women's (little-discussed) hormones can play in one's 'addiction and recovery story', and how rarely this has been considered when it comes to models of recovery. Jenny tells a truly hopeful story about one woman who has come to terms with who she is. She looks the beast in the eyes. Well done.' --Clare Bowditch,
'Jenny Valentish takes us on a field trip through her vulnerabilities and then, like a tour guide in a foreign land, flag aloft, she provides a path back from the abyss. This is an enormously compelling, confronting and informative piece on addiction and recovery from a female perspective. I know a lot of people I want to give this book to.' --Deborah Conway