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‘The Queen’s Gambit’ and Addiction Recovery: How One Netflix Series Proves Recovery is the Greatest Move of All

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October 23, 2020 Netflix released a new series that has become a hit and is changing the way that people look at the game of chess, addiction recovery, and woman’s empowerment. Since the release of the hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit the world of chess has seen a massive increase in users. According to an article written on “Chess is currently experiencing a surge that hasn’t been seen since the days of Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky in 1972. We honestly never expected this level of chess interest, born from a combination of a COVID resurgence, The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, Twitch, and massive amounts of news coverage in the media.” An article in the New York Post explains that, “The Queen’s Gambit” series has even caused a spike in the sales of chess sets. NPR Reported, “Toronto-based toy merchant Spin Master, whose classic games division owns about 70 percent of the US market, has seen its chess sales increase by “triple digits” since the miniseries’ Oct. 23 premiere, while smaller rival Goliath Games has recorded a 1,048 percent surge.” The Queen’s Gambit, a seven episode miniseries based on the 1983 novel with the same title by Walter Tevis, brings us into a world where a young woman finds herself engulfed in high pressure gaming situations, drug and alcohol addiction, and fame as she becomes a symbol for woman’s empowerment, addiction recovery, and America. Actress Anya Taylor-Joy does a brilliant job of bringing us into this young woman’s world as she battles through addiction to become a success.

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The Beginnings of Addiction

From the first episode of the miniseries, watchers of The Queen’s Gambit, set place in the 1950’s and 60’s, are enraptured as the main character, Beth, is placed in an all girls orphanage where the fictional drug “Xanzolaare” (most likely a form of Librium) a Benzodiazepine is given to residents in the form of green and white pills that they tell the young orphans are “vitamins,” which are readily given to calm, subdue, and ultimately control them. Soon it becomes apparent when Beth defiantly sneaks away into the basement to play chess with the custodian, Mr. Shaibel, that Beth isn’t quite like the other girls as she finds that chess gives her an escape outside of the walls of the orphanage.

Beth starts saving and taking her pills late at night in quantities greater than prescribed by her caretakers, then finds that while laying in bed in a drug induced haze that she is able to see an imagined upside-down chessboard above her on the ceiling where the pieces move along as she imagines potential game decisions. Beth watches as the chess pieces move across the chessboard on the ceiling giving her insight to chess moves and scenarios, synchronizing the notion that her excellence at the game is related to her taking a substance at night. Due to this connection, a dangerous game begins as she starts to believe that she needs drugs in order to be brilliant and a greater piece addiction emerges.


The Middle Game

With Continued Use Addiction Grows

According to an article from The New England Journal of Medicine, long-term use of benzodiazepines as well as other prescription drugs can lead to dependence. Once the drug is used and especially when it is abused, the addiction sets in. This is very true when benzos are taken for a long period of time or abused in quantities greater than prescribed. When benzodiazepines are taken away withdrawal symptoms can occur such as anxiety, seizures, irritability, confusion and sleep disorders. The orphanage workers suddenly take the pills away from the orphans and while that might seem like an good move (as all the watchers are yelling at their screens), it is too late and the damage has been done as our main character a young orphan girl is now addicted to benzodiazepines. We watch as young Beth repeatedly questions where her medicine and shows obvious signs of addiction and withdrawal by being impatient and rude to her friends. Desperately Beth tries to find a way to get more pills and an addiction cycle starts that entangles her for many years to come.

Beth rises to success while becoming a top chess player as her addiction grows. The culture of the chess world’s energy is mesmerizing to Beth, there’s competition, flash, celebrity status and fame. She quickly rises in the chess world and becomes an anomaly as not only a young chess player, but a young woman chess player. In the time that the series is set, there aren’t many women playing the game at all, in fact only one other women chess player is recognized in the series. Beth is finally adopted by a woman, Alma Wheatley, who takes anxiety medication (Benzodiazepines) and is also an addict (we later find out). To Beth’s surprise these are the same medications she was given in the orphanage, showing the common and frequent use of these numbing drugs during this time period. Alma becomes a parent-like figure for Beth but transcends that when they become conspirators and join together to reap the benefits of the chess world. Beth gains friends and acquaintances in the chess world, she wins tournaments, she travels, she becomes financially stable, all while becoming more and more dependent on her addiction to benzodiazepines and newly found addiction to alcohol now that she is coming of age.

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The Downward Spiral of Addiction Leading to Rock Bottom

Beth starts with the addiction to the drugs she first started taking in the orphanage, and then as she delves deeper into the chess world she dives deeper into her addiction and finds that she needs more and more. As Beth’s addiction continues and starts to command her life, her decline begins. Beth’s downwards spiral leads to her loss of a tournament, loss of a game, and to the loss of friends, loss of family, and loss of sense of self (identity) that we often see with addiction. She pushes her friends away after a traumatic moment and isolates herself within her house. Without any support Beth finds herself in a seemingly inescapable hole. According to Ph.D. and NIAAA director George F. Koob, findings show that more than 23 million adults in the U.S. have struggled with drug abuse and that nearly 10% of all Americans have struggled with drug abuse at some point in their lives. Drug abuse and addiction happens frequently when one reaches a celebrity-like status as pressure, tension and expectations grow. At the bottom, Beth finds herself alone with her addictions until one friend pushes through to her, showing us the importance that help from friends and loved ones can be. When Jolene, an old friend from the orphanage comes back into Beth’s life it is during one of Beth’s lowest moments so she is honest to Beth and forces her to confront her past traumas showing that Beth’s old friend really cares about her. Adjournment

After Hitting Rock Bottom The Decision Must Be Made To Get Life Back On Track And Begin The Recovery Process

Finally, with help from her friend, Beth makes the decision get sober and put the addiction in the past as she goes to confront her biggest rival in the chess world. The friends she has distanced herself from now show up in different ways to support and root for her. Beth recognizes that these people know about her addiction, and yet still support and care for her. Before her game she panics, wondering where her drugs are and almost relapses, still believing that she needs the drugs in order to win. Beth soon finds that she doesn’t need to resort to drugs in order to get her “chess vision” and that the power exists naturally within herself, a power she had the entire time. Addiction is a health crisis and overdose is now the top cause of accidental death in the United StatesThe Queen’s Gambit shows us how Beth was able to find power over addiction within herself and achieve success through the help and support of her friends and family and self. Overcoming addiction isn’t an easy and straightforward pathway and takes more than one instance of resisting. It takes continuous resisting, continuous support, and continuous recognition for everyday successes and achievements. The miniseries does not portray the life that Beth will lead after this success, but showcases the moment that she is able to overcome her addiction and be true to herself through sober means.

End Game

After Recovery Is Complete The Need For Drugs Or Alcohol Is Replaced With Hope and Gratitude

Beth’s biggest success didn’t have to do with chess, it was conquering her addiction which lead her to the realization that she didn’t need the pills to gain victory. She has had her “chess vision” ever since she played in the basement of the orphanage and when she realizes her potential without the pills we applaud. Addiction is a disease that cannot be overcome on one’s own, or in one instance. One needs continuous support, resources, and friends/family to battle it. There are a number of effective treatments and people can recover from addiction to lead normal and healthy lives.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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