The topic of addiction, be it to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or even to things such as gaming, sex, or work, has been widely discussed in recent years. Statistics across the board seem to show people’s addiction woes worsening despite various restriction attempts and support tools getting employed.
Whether this is an actively worsening problem, however, or we’re just getting better and more precise at measuring its exact scale is another question. If we look into literature, we can find that authors and philosophers have been writing about addiction for hundreds and thousands of years. Even the oldest myths and religious texts we have speak about the blight of addiction, indicating that this problem is actually about as old as humanity itself.
So, how can we tackle this seemingly inescapable problem? Fortunately, while addiction seems near-impossible to beat on a larger societal basis, individuals can relatively reliably overcome addiction and get on the road to recovery with enough support and effort. This is becoming, even more, the case with each passing year as the topic of addiction becomes better and better studied, understood, and detailed.
If you’re looking for some books on the topic, whether scientific, statistical, biographical, or fictional, here are 16 of the best books about addiction and recovery we’ve found so far.
9 Best Novels and Biographies about Addiction and Recovery
Novels, memoirs, and compilations of personal stories can provide us with invaluable insight and inspiration for dealing with our own addiction issues. They can also help us better understand the people in our lives who are struggling with addiction and need our help.
1. The Recovering by Leslie Jamison
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath is a great autobiographical book from a former alcoholic that’s chock-full of not just personal stories and sadness but also joyful dark humor and a lot of heart.
Jamison’s book focuses on a part of the journey a lot of the books below don’t go into – the recovery process. The author describes her own journey through recovery from alcoholism with all its backsliding, pain, and annoyances, but also all the positives that came with it.
The book is beautifully written and endlessly relatable, both for people who have managed to walk the same road and for those who are still in the backsliding stage of their recovery.
2. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
A Million Little Pieces is a half-autobiographical, half-fictional telling of the author’s extensive experience with both addiction and the long road to recovery.
James Frey made his debut with A Million Little Pieces in the early 00s and immediately received critical acclaim for his deep understanding of the pain accompanying most aspects of addiction. The book was later criticized for being partly fictional and not a complete autobiography but that’s hardly unique for this genre nor does it matter much for the contents of the book or its meaning.
3. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
Johnson’s collection of short stories called Jesus’ Son includes some of the most beautiful, yet horrifying, yet realistic accounts of addiction ever put to paper.
Written by a former heroin addict, Jesus’ Son isn’t just for the religiously inclined nor just for those suffering from addiction – it’s for everyone who’s ready to delve deeper into the human psyche and wants to understand the twisted way in which addiction works.
4. The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn are lauded as some of the best depictions of the cycle of addiction – from trauma to dependency and recovery.
This acclaimed collection of 5 books – Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, and At Last – is probably as close to a perfect depiction of the addiction cycle as a human author can get. Especially if you’ve had troubles with addiction yourself, the titles of these books alone will give you a hint at how well St. Aubyn understands this topic.
5. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler may have been written over a century and a half ago but it remains one of the most vivid and poignant novels about gambling written to this day.
A big part of why the story of The Gambler feels so real is that Dostoyevsky himself took a gamble in writing this book in just 4 weeks. Dark, dramatic, and incredibly informative not just about life in imperial Russia but on the consuming nature of gambling, Dostoyevsky’s novel is often cited as one of the best examples of deep psychological writing on addiction.
6. My Struggle: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard
My Struggle: Book One is the first part of a 6-book series but we’re singling it out because it deals almost exclusively – and brilliantly – with the topic of parental alcoholism, the trauma it brings both to the alcoholic and their entire family, and how difficult it is to move on from that.
Written 6 years after his alcoholic father passed away, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle is hauntingly captivating and full of gripping details. Anyone reading the author’s descriptions and who’s also had to share a home with an abusive alcoholic for years can feel from the words exactly how seared into Knaisgaard’s memory all those details really are.
7. Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan
The Acts of Desperation shows how addiction can be just as crippling when it’s toward a person as it is to alcohol and drugs.
The Act of Desperation is actually Megan Nolan’s debut novel but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best depictions of what it’s like to be in a toxic relationship you can’t get out of. Nolan is phenomenal at describing the unbearable amounts of self-loathing, doubt, and vulnerability toxic people can make you experience while also making leaving them harder and harder.
8. The Legend of the Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth
The Legend of the Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth is a captivating and even joyous fable about an adventurous alcoholic in 1930s France.
Roth wrote The Legend of the Holy Drinker while he himself was slowly dying under the effects of alcoholism in 1939 France. Even without this context, the novel is as thought-provoking as it is whimsical and tragic. Published after his passing, Roth’s final book is one of his most famous works, second only to his The Radetzky March.
9. The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen
Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy is not one but three autobiographical works, all about a touching and tragic life of drug addiction – some of the best ever written on this topic.
Like others on this list, Tove Ditlevsen tragically died shortly after finishing her work – in this case, her autobiographical trilogy. Ditlevsen’s death was also sadly due to suicide which is a context that can’t be missed when talking about her three memoirs. Named Childhood, Youth, and Dependency, the books show a painfully relatable story that starts with an unhappy childhood and ends with a Demetrol addiction.
7 Best Non-Fiction Books about Addiction and Recovery
Non-fiction psychological books can be incredibly helpful to people making their first steps on the road to recovery. They can provide a great deal of not just inspiration but also know-how and step-by-step guides for the best ways to move forward.
1. The Craving Brain: Science, Spirituality and the Road to Recovery by W. Anderson Spickard Jr.
The Craving Brain: Science, Spirituality and the Road to Recovery is written by both Dr. W. Anderson Spickard Jr. as well as a patient of his – the recovering addict James B. The whole book is essentially a brilliant interview coupled with a great deal of scientific research.
Combining the raw statistics about addiction with a candid first-hand account, The Craving Brain is a perfect marriage of the scientific with the spiritual, the personal story with cold numbers, and a lot of key questions with their answers. The book is expertly written and quick to read but is worth numerous rereads because of how much information is crammed within it.
2. This Naked Mind: Alcohol Exposed Drink Less, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness And Change Your Life by Annie Grace
Grace’s This Naked Mind: Alcohol Exposed Drink Less, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness And Change Your Life is focused strictly on alcohol addiction but it takes the broadest possible look over the issue and covers it extensively from all sides.
The 264 pages of this book are full of insight from all relevant spheres – neurological, psychological, cultural, and even the many industry factors that contribute to the neverending cycle of alcohol addiction. Grace covers both the addiction itself as well as the rough road to recovery and her book includes some of the best advice you’ll ever see put to paper.
3. Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy by David Sheff
Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy is a look at addiction through the otherwise objective eyes of a journalist who now had to deal with addiction in his own family.
Sheff is the author of many widely praised books but few are as impactful as Clean. In this book, Sheff combines his objective view of the various addictions that plague tens of millions of people in the US alone with his personal experience of having a son waging his own battle with addiction.
4. Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs is a historically, politically, and sociologically brilliant overview of the failure that “The War on Drugs” was and still is, and how it has helped ruin the lives of countless millions of people.
Reading history can often be infuriating and not what you’re looking for when you’re suffering from addiction, but it can also be illuminating and empowering if you can funnel those infuriating feelings into a personal drive for change.
This is truer for Hari’s Chasing the Scream than it probably is for any other book. There, Hari shows how decades of ill-thought-out policies and restrictions during the War on Drugs have brought ruin to ordinary people in every part of the US, Mexico, and South America.
5. Why Don’t They Just Quit? What families and friends need to know about addiction and recovery by Joe Herzanek
As is evident from its title, Why Don’t They Just Quit? What families and friends need to know about addiction and recovery isn’t meant so much for those suffering from addiction directly but for the people around them who need to act as their support network and not as an additional burden the addict needs to carry.
For most people who haven’t suffered from addiction (or don’t realize that they have) the very concept of the thing can be somewhat intangible. Why do people keep doing this harmful thing to themselves, be it alcohol, drugs, or anything else? Why don’t they just stop? Are they just “weak”? Sinners?
Leaning toward such wrong answers is easy for many but few titles can help you truly understand the reasons and logic behind addiction as well as Herzanek’s Why Don’t They Just Quit?
6. Addiction Recovery DIY: Do it Yourself – Conquer Your Drug or Alcohol Addiction at Home by K.J. Gordon
Addiction Recovery DIY: Do it Yourself – Conquer Your Drug or Alcohol Addiction at Home is the ideal book for those adamant to conquer their addiction on their own – something that we wouldn’t necessarily recommend but that’s nevertheless possible and chosen by many.
K.J. Gordon’s book is one of the best guides we’ve seen about battling addiction and recovering from it at home. It’s written for people without or with limited support networks, and it’s designed to both help you with going through the necessary introspection as well as do a series of addiction therapy exercises on your own.
7. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté
Written by one of the best living psychologists today, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts tells the stories of some of Maté’s patients from the time he worked with crack and heroin addicts at the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.
In recent years, Maté has slowly started gaining a small portion of the attention and appreciation he needs for his groundbreaking views on how addiction and trauma work. Written beautifully and with boundless compassion, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is a collection of just some of the patients that helped him arrive at his understanding of the topic.
When you’re overcome with addiction, depression, and desperation, reading a book can be the last thing you feel like doing. Yet, it’s also one of the best things you can do, especially if it’s the right book.
The simple realization that what you’re going through isn’t unique to you and that others have gone through the same ordeal and have managed to come back from it is often the first step to recovery for many people suffering from addiction. Add all the priceless knowledge, empathy, and insight contained in many of the best books about addiction out there, and it’s no surprise that reading even just one point is often the turning point for many people.
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