I love books. I love to huff that magical smell of a library, or a bookstore. (Bibliophiles can detect the slight differences in the aroma of these two.) I love to stick my nose into a book, and draw a quick sniff. I do this furtively, looking around to make sure no one is watching me, sensing how ridiculous I would look to anyone except another book huffer. Thankfully, my sister also huffs books, so we often go together to the bookstore.

I read all types of books, but some of my favorites have described some aspect of addiction or recovery. My bookshelves sag from the weight of these books, but some are so good I have to keep them. Frequently I’ll prescribe this book or that to help a patient. I give recommendations for books to friends even when they don’t ask. Many of these books have never made it to the best seller list. Many are hard to find.

Here’s a partial list of my favorite addiction memoirs:

“Junky,” by William Burroughs, reminds me addiction is nothing new. This classic addiction memoir of an intravenous opiate addiction is graphic, and may trigger people in early recovery. The author tells about his life, day to day. He shows the despair and hopelessness of active addiction. Though written in the 1950’s, he describes the same old actions and feelings as addicts have now.

“Leaving Dirty Jersey” by James Salant. This memoir tells how the author’s life went downhill while using methamphetamine. He does a great job of describing the daily struggles for drugs, food, and shelter, usually obtained in this order. It’s interesting to read what social niceties remained important to addicts, and to watch even those fall away as addiction progresses.

“Dry,” by Augusten Burroughs. I love this author. Once I listened to another of his books, “Side Effects,” on CD while I was driving. At one point, I had to pull off the road because I was laughing to hard. “Dry” isn’t that kind of hilarious book, but still funny in some places, and touching in many places. I found myself really wanting the author to be successful in recovery.

“Rolling Away,” by Lyn Marie Smith gave me an intimate feel for what it’s like to use and fall in love with the drug Ecstasy. Honestly, it kind of made me want to use Ecstasy, so this book could trigger people in early recovery. But then the author conducts the reader through the hell of active addiction, with all its poor decisions, shame, and rupture of important relationships.

“A Million Little Pieces,” Oh, seriously. I only read a few of the first page, then laid it down. I knew he was lying. Prominent inpatient treatment centers don’t do dental surgery without anesthesia. There’s no reason to do so, because Novocain and similar anesthetics aren’t addictive, and don’t give cocaine-type feelings. Duh. This one I don’t recommend, but listed it because I wanted to vent about it.

“Beautiful Boy,” by David Sheffield was a wonderful description of the pain of a loving father, heart broken by his son’s methamphetamine addiction. Beautifully written, it reminds me it isn’t only the addict who suffers. I haven’t yet read the book by the son, Nic Sheffield, “Tweaker,” but I plan to.

“Drinking: A Love Story,” by Caroline Knapp. Get it and read it, particularly if you are a female alcoholic, in or out of recovery. She describes alcohol addiction and despair, and then her recovery. Sadly, this wonderful author died of cancer a few years after this book was written.

“Lit,” by Mary Karr. This is a recent book and a bestseller. For a change, it’s a bestseller that I really enjoyed. She gives a lyric description of how addiction creeps into a life slowly, like a mist, gradually obscuring common sense and healthy living. She also described how recovery helped her handle life events that happened later in life.

“Addiction By Prescription,” by Joan Gatsby. She explains the hell of her benzodiazepine addiction. She conveys her emotional states well, and the writing was interesting. But it was hard for me to read the sections where she seemed to shirk responsibility for her addiction. She mixed benzodiazepines with alcohol, with the predictably bad results. She seems to blame the doctor for this. Didn’t her pill bottle have that little label that says, “Do Not Take With Alcohol?”

“Happy Hours,” by Devon Jersild. This isn’t so much a memoir as a collection of the experiences of many female alcoholics. It’s entertaining, and also a great book for addiction professionals to read. The gamut of emotions of female addicts is portrayed well.

“More, Now, Again,” by Elizabeth Wurtzel. I was spellbound by this book; I couldn’t put it down. She gives such an interesting description of the personal details of methamphetamine addiction. Don’t miss her other book, “Prozac Nation.”

I’m a big believer in bibliotherapy, meaning using books as therapy. The written word has as much power to heal as the spoken word. It’s not just non-fiction that teaches. Some of the most important lessons are taught in stories. Remember the “Velveteen Rabbit?”

Next time, I’ll list books for addiction professionals to read.

Meanwhile, let me know your favorite addiction memoirs.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for sharing this list! I’m adding several of them to my “books to buy” especially “Lit”. The way you say she describes addiction creeping into her life agrees with how I became an addict. I continue to enjoy your postings! 🙂


  2. Posted by Jana on July 1, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    thanks much!
    and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!!


  3. Bibliotherapy « Janaburson's Blog…

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  4. Bibliotherapy « Janaburson's Blog…

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  5. When I found out my sister was a heroin addict the first thing I did was walk into a bookstore and scan the shelves for something that might be able to help me. I found nothing immediately and craved to read about experiences like my own. I eventually found Mum, Can you lend me Twenty Quid – a mother’s account of her twin son’s addiction I then quite weirdly found comfort in Slash’s autobiography – Guns & Roses were my idols when I was growing up but reading about the reality of their rock and roll lifestyle was strangely sobering: I loved David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy – so powerful it made me cry. I havnt read Tweak yet but I think I am coming to a place where I am ready to hear the addicts story too.
    Junk is on my list of books to read. It is a story of two teenagers who descend into heroin addiction. It is aimed at the teen market – 12+ so has been quite contraversial:

    Thanks for your post – I look forward to looking up your recommendations.


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