Koren Zailckas insists that she has never been an alcoholic. She does admit, however, that she suffered through a decade of alcohol abuse.
Zailckas, author of the New York Times bestseller Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, spoke of her struggle with alcohol to a crowd of over 100 undergraduate students and faculty at the University of Miami’s Learning Center on Tuesday night.
The event was part of “Oksoberfest,” the name given to this year’s National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week.
“In my family, when I was younger, we didn’t talk about our emotions,” Zailckas said. “I think as a result I came to rely on alcohol for that emotional support at a very young age.”
Zailckas had her first sip of alcohol when she was 14 years old. She had her last sip at age 23 and has since been sober for six years.
Her struggle with alcohol originated during high school but intensified at Syracuse University, where she attended college.
“At Syracuse, alcohol was way more accessible than it had been when I was in high school,” Zailckas said. “My college drinking began with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of alcohol.”
Zailckas was a sister of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority while she was an undergraduate. She changed the name of the sorority to “Zeta” in her book to protect Kappa Alpha Theta’s reputation at Syracuse.
Zailckas insists that her sorority was not at the root of her problems with alcohol abuse.
“I certainly don’t hold my sorority accountable for my drinking,” Zailckas said. “I wanted to make my college experience about drinking, so I made my sorority experience about drinking as well.”
At Syracuse, Zailckas majored in journalism and minored in English. She wrote her book as a memoir of her experiences at age 23 while living in New York City, immediately after she decided to become sober.
It landed on the New York Times bestseller list shortly after it was published in 2005. Since then, Zailckas has promoted her book on 20/20, Good Morning America, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper 360, The View, and The Tyra Banks Show.
Zailckas does not believe that she would have listened if someone had told her she had a drinking problem while she was a student at Syracuse.
She does believe that she might have listened if that warning had come sooner.
“In high school they were always so focused on drinking and driving that they left out the basic things,” Zailckas said. “I didn’t know that alcohol affects girls differently than it does boys. I didn’t know that my body handles alcohol differently if I’m taking birth control or if it’s that time of the month. I didn’t even know what alcohol poisoning was.”
It is exactly for these reasons that a National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week exists on UM’s campus and on college campuses across the country.
The goal of this week’s Oksoberfest events is to educate students about the effects of alcohol on their bodies and the potential dangers of drinking.
“The thing that stood out for me in Zailckas’ speech was that her story is very similar to those of a lot of people I know, especially here at UM,” said sophomore Patrick Nealon, Inter-Fraternity Council co-chair for ‘Greeks Advocating Mature Mangemant of Alochol.’ “It could have been a number of familiar faces up there telling me the same story.”