The best books on addiction and recovery

The Books I Picked & Why

Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcholism

By James R. Milam, Katherine Ketcham

Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcholism

Why this book?

This is one of the first books I read when I realized that I had a serious problem with drinking. Not only did it help me better understand my addiction from a genetic, scientific point-of-view, it also helped me diagnose myself as an alcoholic. Written for the lay-reader, it’s short, packed with hard facts and eye-opening studies about alcoholism. It’s a classic. And it’s also inspiring when it comes to recovery and treatment. I’ve recommended it dozens of times to people who’ve asked me where they could find out more about alcoholism, if not for themselves, then for those they love who have a serious drinking problem.


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The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction

By Dirk Hanson

The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction

Why this book?

This book also deals with addiction science, and Hanson is a gifted writer who’s able to express complex ideas in simple, straightforward language. And he also devotes a good deal of time to the care and healing aspects of substance abuse. It takes one to know one, as the saying goes, and Mr. Hanson knows from personal experience and extensive investigative research what it’s like to struggle with addiction. Underrated and underread, this book is right up there with the best on the subjects of addiction and recovery.


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The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin

By Tracey Helton Mitchell

The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin

Why this book?

Another underrated and underread book, this memoir traces one woman’s descent into heroin hell and, ultimately, her recovery and redemption. I’ve known many heroin addicts in my day, and I hate to say it, especially publicly, but very few have been able to turn their lives around. Mitchell is one of the exceptions, and she sets a wonderful example for others to follow and not lose hope. Many memoirists simply make a record of their lives, or, worse, glorify their drug addiction, but not Hanson. Her book is one of insight and soul-searching into the madness of addiction. She pulls no punches about the ugliness of the addict’s life, yet at the same time, she offers hope to the most seemingly hopeless among us. At the heart of this book is a powerful message of recovery by someone, who by all accounts, should be dead.


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Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction

By Rebecca Shannonhouse

Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction

Why this book?

Using short stories, essays, and memoir selections from such authors as Poe, Tolstoy, Dorthey Parker, and Cheever, this book is an anthology of literature on addiction. Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat,” captures the madness that comes of alcoholism. Tolstoy’s essay offers sage advice about the nature of addiction. A lesser-known but standout story by Donna Steiner, “Sleeping with Alcohol,” teaches us what it’s like to be in love with an alcoholic and watching that person self-destruct. I’m a professor of English, and I used this book in a class I taught called “The Literature of Addiction,” alongside Dirk Hanson’s The Chemical Carousel as a primer for better understanding addiction before launching into stories, essays, and memoirs about it. The short stories in Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction are entertaining as well as enlightening, and its other selections are just as informative as the books I previously mentioned.


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Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

By Bill W.

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

Why this book?

The Big Book of A.A. is the single, most influential, and effective book on addiction and recovery ever written. Sadly, it is also one of the most controversial. In an increasingly secular society, A.A.’s emphasis on God, or a “Higher Power” has led many to turn away from its program of recovery. A.A. has also been accused of being a shame and guilt-based program. Whatever the criticism, valid or not, The Big Book has helped millions of alcoholics and addicts get sober. I would’ve listed it as my first choice if not for the possibility of being prematurely judged by those who need to get clean and sober but don’t want to use A.A. to do it. I was once that way, too, but toward the end of my drinking and using days, when I seriously contemplated suicide, I turned to A.A. Now I credit The Big Book and A.A. for helping save my life.


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