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The show is based on a young orphan named Beth Harmon who learns how to play chess with the janitor at the orphanage and becomes a prodigy. The show follows her chess career, detailing the highs and lows of her personal life. The interesting aspect of this show is the role that drug addiction plays. Throughout the show Beth struggles with a prescription pill addiction, eventually realizing the harm her habit is doing.
As a drug and alcohol treatment center in Boca, we wanted to take a closer look at what The Queen’s Gambit got right and wrong about addiction.
In order to determine what The Queen’s Gambit got right and wrong about addiction, we need to understand what drug Beth Harmon was addicted to in the show. The white and green pills Beth takes in The Queen’s Gambit are referred to as “xanzolam;” however, this is a fictional drug that is thought to represent tranquilizers like Librium, formally known as chlordiazepoxide, which was a popular drug in the 1960s for treating anxiety. Librium was the first benzodiazepine on the market.
In the orphanage, Beth and the other girls were given these drugs and told they were vitamins. All orphans were required to take them because they “even their dispositions,” meaning they made the children in the orphanage calm and slow to react. When Beth begins learning how to play chess, she takes a large dose of xanzolam, causing her to hallucinate a giant chess board on the ceiling. She continuously does this on purpose throughout her career in order to strategize new plays. Beginning at her time in the orphanage, Beth struggles with an addiction to these pills.
Prescription drug addiction is a horrible disease; many individuals are currently struggling with addictions to medications like opioids and benzodiazepines in the United States. Fortunately, those battling prescription pill addiction can begin their recovery with our medically monitored detox at Banyan Treatment Centers Boca.
Drug abuse played a major role in The Queen’s Gambit. Through most of the show, Beth believes that she needs to be high so she can play well enough to win. And while there are certain questionable aspects about the portrayal of addiction on The Queen's Gambit, there are some things they got right.
From the beginning of the show, we’re constantly shown Beth’s past through flashbacks. Multiple scenes displayed the trauma that Beth experienced, starting from the time her mother committed suicide by crashing their car. She also lacked any real father figure in her life, with her adoptive father only agreeing to the adoption to please his wife. The idea of substance abuse was also reinforced when she witnessed her adoptive mother abusing drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with her broken marriage. When Beth finds her adopted mother dead in their hotel room, it pushes her further into her drug habit. Beth had been using substance abuse as a coping mechanism for so long, she didn’t think there was any other way to deal with everything going on in her life.
Beth’s addiction takes root when she’s forced to take tranquilizers at a young age in the orphanage. She eventually realizes the effects these drugs have and begins to take them in higher doses. Even when the orphanage stopped handing out these drugs, she continued to seek them. She eventually believes that she has to take these drugs to properly strategize and play chess. Following her adoption, Beth finds out the name of the drugs when she picks them up for her mother one day. Later on, in the show, she begins to use them herself and attributes the “cloudy feeling” they give her to her wins. When she and her mother begin to travel for chess tournaments, Beth is introduced to alcohol, which tips the scales. After a while, she begins to feel the impact of prolonged substance abuse and begins isolating herself from her friends.
Addiction is a chronic disease and the recovery process is life-long. With the right help, you can live the rest of your life addiction-free. Our residential drug treatment in Boca offers onsite, 24-hour care to patients to help them recover, teach them powerful relapse prevention strategies, and help them live healthy lives.
High-functioning addicts are usually very intelligent individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol but don’t fit the typical addict stereotype. These individuals can go to work and complete their responsibilities at
home without issue all while engaging in substance abuse. When it comes to Beth, she’s able to play chess, attend tournaments, travel, and take care of her home all while struggling with addiction. High-functioning addicts can be difficult to identify because they’re able to keep up with their grades, jobs, families, and friends. They all reach a breaking point eventually, however, just as it was portrayed in Beth’s case in The Queen’s Gambit. Her breaking point was illustrated in an episode where she was drinking at home for days on end, losing track of time to the point where she skipped a chess competition altogether.
Another thing The Queen’s Gambit got right about substance abuse was the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Like many other people suffering from addiction, Beth uses drugs and alcohol to escape from the pain of her traumatic past, the pain of losing her friends, and the pain of losing her adoptive mother. The times she does lose at chess, she turns to alcohol or drugs to feel better. When these substances no longer eased the pain she felt, she attempted to date to fill the void. When that ended poorly, she spiraled out of control again. One of the many problems of using drugs and alcohol to ease pain is that it doesn’t cure it, but only temporarily masks it.
When she hits rock bottom, Beth reunites with Jolene, her best friend from the orphanage. During her time with Jolene, Beth confronts her post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, admitting that she was a better chess player when she was sober. This concept was reinforced in the show’s final episode during which Beth plays her toughest opponent. During the match, she looks up at the ceiling and sees a chessboard, but because she was sober, she realizes that it was her skill that helped her, not the drugs. This episode in particular portrays the strength that sobriety can provide and also demonstrates the joy that comes from realizing one’s strength when drugs and alcohol aren’t involved.
While the harsh realities of drug abuse on The Queen’s Gambit were accurately displayed, Beth’s recovery was not. Recovering from addiction is a difficult process both mentally and physically. The show made it appear as if quitting drugs and alcohol is as easy as realizing you’re better off without them. For most people who battle addiction, it’s not that simple. Many people often require drug or alcohol addiction treatment to recover, and they may still struggle with relapse after the fact. Crunching up Beth’s recovery into an hour-long episode is misleading.
Gaining intelligence from substance abuse is one of the most common misconceptions about addiction. The myth that addiction and genius are connected is perpetuated throughout most of the show, like when Beth would hallucinate a chessboard on her ceiling and win competitions under the influence of prescription drugs. Drug abuse does not make a person more intelligent, though. In fact, it can actually reduce cognitive ability. The Queen’s Gambit took too long in clarifying that genius is not a result of substance abuse.