In Session with “The Queen’s Gambit”

After a short winter break, we’ve returned to tackle Netflix’s hit series The Queen’s Gambit. Join us as we sit across the board from orphan turned chess champion, Beth Harmon.

Dr. Sam and Dr. Fran explore what makes Beth a prodigy, investigate her time in foster care and review her battle with substance use. Plus, what are those little green pills or “magic vitamins” they’re giving out at Methuen Home? Is that really a thing that happened in orphanages in the 1950s?

As her star in the chess world rises, so too does Beth’s tolerance for alcohol and drugs. Does she really need them? Or is this just another Sicilian Defense mechanism? We discuss substance use disorder, treatment and the importance of social support when combating these difficulties, not to mention Grandmaster Borgov.

Don’t be a pawn! Listening to this week’s session is the best opening move of 2021.

Glossary of Terms

Prodigy – child who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a specific, demanding field of endeavor

Savant – a person with a developmental disability or low IQ who exhibits exceptional skill in a specific field

Working Memory – part of short-term memory that temporarily holds a small amount of information that is currently being used

Benzodiazepine a tranquilizer drug that is prescribed to treat anxiety, sleep problems, and treat withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) a chronic disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite impairment or distress; used instead of terms like “alcoholism,” “addiction,” or “alcohol abuse” in order to move away from blame, pressure, and stigma

Relapse when someone returns to alcohol or substance use after partial recovery from a substance use disorder

Tolerance a need for increased amounts of a substance to achieve intoxication

Withdrawal physical and mental symptoms associated with stopping or reducing intake of a substance

Comorbid when two diagnoses occur simultaneously

Depressant – a drug or substance that reduces arousal or stimulation in certain areas of the brain


Ever wondered about the difference between a child prodigy and a savant? Find out here.

Take a deeper dive into the psychology behind child prodigies here.

Read about some of the sordid history behind the use of drugs and other abusive practices in orphanages.

Drs. Sam and Fran hypothesize that the “green vitamins” depicted in The Queen’s Gambit are meant to represent benzodiazepines.  Learn more about this drug’s history here.

We also discuss the essential role of social support in substance use treatment.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a substance use disorder, you can call the SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
  • Find additional resources on their website