Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock) is a newspaper columnist who spends her free time in a drunken haze and high on sedative or sleep-inducing drugs, with her boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West). After a drunken night out, the two start their morning with a beer and head to Gwen’s sister, Lily’s wedding. Gwen ruins her sisters wedding by showing up late and drunk, giving an inappropriate toast, and collapsed into the wedding cake. Intoxicated, Gwen tells Lily she will buy another cake so she steals a limousine outside of the reception and ends up crashing into a house. As her punishment she is given the choice between 28 days in jail or at a rehab facility and she ends up choosing rehab.
This semester we have learned that there are many different definitions for alcoholism, however most definitions include repeated drinking to the point of loss of control and difficulty functioning socially. This clearly defines Gwen prior to entering rehab. Also, major known components of alcoholism include craving, “a compulsion to drink alcohol even during inappropriate times,” and very impaired or loss of control, “inability to limit drinking once begun.” Gwen displays these two components when she drives the limo, drinks the second she wakes up in the morning and then excessively at a formal event, her sisters wedding. In addition to definitions and components of alcohol, we learned about the negative impacts of alcohol. One of them being, disrupting personal, family, social and professional functions and as I mentioned previously, this is exactly what Gwen did at her sisters wedding. Gwen’s constant binge drinking habits have lead me to believe E. Morton Jellinek would classify her as an epsilon alcoholic.
In addition to alcoholism, we find that Gwen suffers from polydrug use, which is the common practice of taking alcohol concurrently with other drugs. Once checked into rehab, Gwen is restricted from alcohol and her pills are taken away. Without these two substances we see her display yet another major component of alcoholism, physical dependence. Physical dependence is the withdrawal symptoms one experiences when attempting to abstain. After the first couple of days at rehab, we see Gwen become very anxious and she explains that she cannot control the shakiness of her hands. Gwen attempts to deal with her withdrawal symptoms by smoking cigarettes, chewing gum and eating candy. We even see Gwen become compulsive when she begins to create a chain by folding gum wrappers together that eventually turns into a few feet long.
When learning about the treatment and recovery process of alcoholism an explanation was given that many alcoholics will use denial as a psychological defense and it is easy for them to relapse without a radical shift in their lifestyle. Jasper, who also clearly shows signs of alcoholism, considers Gwen’s recovery a joke. So much so, that on the weekends when the patients are allowed to have visitors, he brings Gwen pills and gets her drunk. Since this happened so soon after entering rehab, Gwen had not really had the time to make any dramatic lifestyle changes. For this reason, it was so easy for Gwen to give into Jasper’s alcohol and drug temptations. Once she arrives back to the facility Gwen is caught intoxicated and ends up having to explain herself in her counselor’s office. While being punished for her behavior she shows that she is in denial about her problem when explaining to her counselor, “I don’t even belong in here. Yeah, I know I drink a lot…but, I’m not like those people out there. I can control myself…If I wanted to I could, if that’s what I wanted, I could.” With that being said, Gwen eventually realizes she has a problem once her therapy group challenges her in a therapy session. She realizes that she does have a problem and that she does need help. From that point on, Gwen gradually opens up to her group and other patients, gaining their trust, love and admiration.
In addition to group therapy with other patients, the facility has the patient’s family members come in and attend a therapy session. Gwen’s sister attends the session. This is when she starts to put together the pieces that led her to the lifestyle she lived pre-rehab. We learned in class that for many alcoholics, family plays a big role in their addiction. In fact, children of alcoholics are two to four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. In the family therapy session Gwen and Lily discuss their childhood and we eventually find out that their mother had died from alcoholism. In addition to her past, although not necessarily discussed in the movie, I was able to make other observations based off of facts discussed in class, that definitely apply to Gwen and her addiction. First, we had learned in class that women possess greater sensitivity to alcohol and therefore, have a greater likelihood of addiction. Second, we learned that women tend to seek and be with men whose drinking habits mimic their own and in Gwen’s case, this is clearly Jasper.
Fortunately, Gwen is able to turn her life around by doing the opposite of what she was doing when she first entered rehab. She was no longer in denial about her problem, which led her to be able to accept the help she needed. Most importantly, she broke up with Jasper once she finally understood he represented temptation and that if she wanted to be sober she could no longer be with him.
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