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March 6, 1991

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Author Affiliations

Kansas University Medical Center Kansas City

Kansas University Medical Center Kansas City


by William Styron, 84 pp, $15.95, ISBN 0-394-58888-6, New York, NY, Random House, 1990.

JAMA. 1991;265(9):1184-1185. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460090134051

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Several years ago, without warning, William Styron lost a friend. The friend abandoned him "not gradually and reluctantly, as a true friend might, but like a shot—and I was left high and certainly dry."

Dry indeed. The friend was alcohol. For 40 years, Styron had (his word) "abused" alcohol. Suddenly, at 60, he could not drink. A "mouthful of wine" caused nausea, wooziness, a sinking feeling, something Styron supposed Antabuse might do—but he was not taking Antabuse. Apparently he had never been treated for a drinking problem. The Antabuse-like reaction had no medical explanation.

The author of Lie Down in Darkness and Sophie's Choice missed alcohol terribly. "Like a great many American writers," he wrote, "I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination. There is no need to either rue or apologize for my use of this soothing, often sublime