Memoirs are often the very best way to learn about an individual and his or her experiences, as the audience gets an up close and personal account of his or her life and journey from a very personal point of view. The books mentioned below include many of the most well-known, well-rated, and effective tales of addiction, and in most cases, rehabilitation and recovery, and will certainly be at least interesting, if not highly inspiring, for anyone who has personally experienced addiction, or has been touched by it in some way.
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff – Goodreads Rating – 4.03 – Amazon Rating – 4.5 – This memoir, written by well-known addiction recovery author David Sheff, is perhaps the most famous account of addiction as told through the eyes of a parent. The author’s son, Nic, became addicted to crystal meth while an honor student, a varsity athlete, and a beloved sibling, and he eventually ended up living on the streets and becoming estranged from most of his loved ones. This account follows Nic’s addiction and his father’s experience of it through the early warning signs to his full blown addiction, and details his father’s struggles with trying to get him the help he needed before he was lost forever. David’s refusal to give up on his son ultimately lead to his recovery, and this is a heart-wrenching yet inspiring story that gives hope to all parents going through addiction with their children.
The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction by Sandy Swenson – Goodreads Rating – 4.54 – Amazon Rating 5 – Sandy Swenson’s memoir about her experience with her son Joey’s addiction is difficult to read from an emotional standpoint, but it is in many ways inspiring, and is certainly relatable for any parent going through a similar battle. Although despite her best efforts, Joey does not end up in recovery; he quits college, attempts suicide, and is kicked out of rehab more than once by age twenty, and often disappears entirely for long periods after that. As a result, the author throws herself into family support groups, Al-Anon, and learning everything she can about addiction and discovers that sometimes love means doing nothing, and that letting go is not the same as giving up. She goes on to start programs to help other recovering addicts, and continues to hope that someday Joey will decide on his own to get the help he needs and come back to her. Although this story doesn’t necessarily have the happy ending one might expect from an addiction related memoir, there is much to be learned from this book.
Zoo Station: The Story of Christine F. by Christine F. – Goodreads Rating – 4.16 – Amazon Rating – 4.5 – This true story is geared for high schoolers and is more of a cautionary tale than an inspiring account of falling and rising again. In 1978, Christine F. testified in court against a man who had traded heroin for sex with her, and two journalists present at the trial were inspired to meet with her and share her story with others. Her rapid descent into drug addiction and prostitution to support her habit, starting during her preteen years, is tragic and difficult to understand, and the stories told within this book are brutal and powerful, and aim to keep its readers away from beginning a walk down the same path.
How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z by Ann Marlowe – Goodreads Rating 3.58 – Amazong Rating – 3.5 – In this book, author Ann Marlowe reflects on her own heroin addiction and recounts her experience in thorough detail, and forces the reader to question their stereotype of a heroin addict. Despite working on Wall Street, never experiencing homelessness, never shooting up, and never having to sell drugs to support her own habit, Marlowe was addicted to heroin for seven years, and although she managed to successfully recover, her book clearly outlines and investigates the lives of functional addicts like herself. Although in some ways this book may seem to glamourize addiction, it also may resonate with readers who are struggling with addictions of their own who do not necessarily fit the stereotype of traditional drug user, and encourage them to seek help and turn their lives around.
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey – Goodreads Rating – 3.62 – Amazon Rating – 4 – Thanks to Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of this book and her inclusion of it in her well-known Oprah’s Book Club, this memoir is perhaps the most famous of all addiction memoirs; however, a great deal of controversy surrounded it as well when it was discovered that author James Frey embellished many tales within, and entirely made up others. However, despite this, this book is still considered an addiction and recovery memoir, as much of it truly did happen to the author, and it is well worth a read regardless. Frey is a talented writer, and his story of addiction, rehabilitation, and recovery will speak clearly to those experiencing the same, even though it’s truthfulness must be taken with a grain of salt. This book focuses mostly on his time in a residential treatment center, and may help addicts who plan to enter treatment know what to expect when they get there.
The Girl Behind the Painted Smile: My Battle with the Bottle by Catherine Lockwood – Goodreads Rating – 4.27 – Amazon Rating – 4 – Catherine Lockwood’s first book explores her experiences with alcoholism. Having grown up in an abusive family like many other addicts, and saddled with the weight of depression even in childhood, it is no surprise that early on in her life, Lockwood became addicted to alcohol. Upon reaching adulthood, and despite a promising career in acting and modeling, her addiction quickly spiraled out of control, leading to loss of the custody of her children, and fractured relationships with friends and family across the board. However – the author does manage to turn her life around and gets sober, and this book approaches her struggles and successes with grace, optimism, and even some comedy, all of which will be a comfort and a help to others in the same situation.
Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood – Koren Zailckas – Goodreads Rating – 3.5 – Amazon Rating 3.5 – The author of this book was just twenty-four when she wrote it and had already quit drinking and was on a healthy and positive route to a sober adulthood. This book differs from others in the sense that Zalickas managed to recognize her problem and reasons for it at a young age and managed to stop drinking, with help, before getting far into adulthood. After having her first sip of alcohol at age fourteen, the ten years that followed were a rapid descent into uncontrollable alcoholism, risk taking, bad decision-making, and dangerous situations before she finally decided to put a stop to it and move forward as a sober and healthy adult. This book is especially good for anyone who became an alcoholic in his or her teenage years, and offers hope for putting a stop to it while still young.
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp – Goodreads Rating – 4.03 – Amazon Rating – 4.5 – Like the author of Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, above, Caroline Knapp began drinking in her early teens. Pushed by her well-to-do family towards anorexia and later alcoholism, this memoir outlines her downward spiral into full-fledged addiction, and her subsequent rise through recovery and into sobriety. This book focuses in many ways on the reasons teenaged girls (and women in general) turn to alcohol, and later, the way out. Honest, forthcoming, and lacking in self-pity, the author examines her journey and offers real steps for those who want to leave alcohol behind and live a sober and healthy life for the rest of their years.
Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff – Goodreads Rating – 3.93 – Amazon Rating – 4.5 – This book is a great pairing with his father’s story, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, mentioned above. Nic’s account of his addiction, starting at age eleven with alcohol, is well written and intriguing, and is in many parts upsetting to read. Over time, Nic moved from alcohol to ecstasy and cocaine to a full-blown addiction to crystal meth, destroyed his promising future, and heavily strained his relationships with friends and family. After years of addiction and intense abuse, Nic finally realized he needed to stop using, and the tale of rehabilitation and recovery that follows is both encouraging and inspiring, and offers hope for addicts and their loved ones alike.
Facing the Dragon: How a Desperate Act Pulled One Addict Out of Methamphetamine Hell by David Parnell & Amy Hagberg – Gooreads Rating – 4.19 – Amazon Rating – 4.5 – After twenty-three years of being addicted to meth and other drugs, author David Parnell tried to kill himself with a rifle to the chin – but failed. After a near-death experience during which he briefly entered Hell, he awoke surprised to be alive – and a changed man. This book follows Parnell’s journey from all-American teen to downtrodden addict and back again, and today, he is using his second chance to warn others about the dangers of drug addiction. He is a renowned speaker who addresses teens, prisoners, churches, and anti-drug organizations hoping to give others a second chance too.
Leaving Dirty Jersey: A Crystal Meth Memoir by James Salant – Goodreads Rating – 3.68 – Amazon Rating – 4 – James Salant’s book’s title refers not only to his nickname (also tattooed on his forearm), but his fall and rise and departure from drug addiction in New Jersey. This memoir, like many of the others, focuses mostly on his recovery efforts, but also paints a clear picture of the torture of being addicted to methamphetamines in harrowing detail. His description of a nearly perfect home life with two supportive, loving parents in an upscale neighborhood reminds the reader that addiction can happen to absolutely anyone, and his journey also shows that recovery is possible – although is certainly not easy – for all as well.
Living with Addiction
We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction by Nic Sheff – Goodreads Rating – 3.92 – Amazon Rating – 4.5 – This second book on this list by Nic Sheff is a follow-up to his first book Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines mentioned above. While the former recounts his experiences in becoming and living as an addict, this book focuses on life after rehabilitation, and staying clean and sober as a recovering addict. Although it is somewhat repetitive after his first book in some ways, his struggles with the challenges and obstacles faced by young men and women trying to remain clean and sober in a world that often seems to encourage drug and alcohol abuse is fresh and eye opening. This book is a must-read for anyone working on his or her recovery.