The best books on addiction and recovery from someone who has been there

Who am I?

I took my first hit of marijuana when I was 9. I had my first drink at 12 and my first shot of heroin at 14.  My brother and sister were also alcoholics and ended up taking their own lives. I abused drugs and alcohol for over 30 years, and after many failed attempts to turn my life around, I now have 15 years of continuous sobriety. I’ve also read almost ninety books on the topic of substance abuse and have written several myself about my personal struggles to get clean and sober and stay that way.  Addiction, sadly, is a subject I know all too well.


I wrote...

The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir

By James Brown,

Book cover of The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir

What is my book about?

Plagued by the suicides of both his siblings, and heir to alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, and economic ruin, James Brown lived a life clouded by addiction, broken promises, and despair.

In The Los Angeles Diaries, he reveals his struggle for survival, mining his past to present the inspiring story of his redemption. Harrowing and brutally honest, this memoir is the chronicle of a man on a collision course with life, who ultimately finds the strength and courage to conquer his demons and believe once more.

The books I picked & why

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

By James R. Milam, Katherine Ketcham,

Book cover of Under the Influence: A Life-Saving 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.

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

By James R. Milam, Katherine Ketcham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under the Influence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The now-classic guide to alcoholism returns with new, enlightening research that confirms the revolutionary ideas first trailblazed by this book in a time when such theories were unheard of—now featuring a new foreword, new resources, and the same reliable insights and easy-to-read style.

“This book is truly informative, powerful, and an invaluable resource on overcoming alcoholism.”—Angela Diaz, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.
 
Ten of millions of Americans suffer from alcoholism, yet most people still wrongly believe that alcoholism is a psychological or moral problem that can be “cured” once the purported underlying psychological problems or moral failings of the alcoholic are addressed.…


The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction

By Dirk Hanson,

Book cover of 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.

The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction

By Dirk Hanson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Chemical Carousel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An in-depth look at addiction science and medical treatments for drug abuse.


The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin

By Tracey Helton Mitchell,

Book cover of 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.

The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin

By Tracey Helton Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Big Fix as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After surviving nearly a decade of heroin abuse and hard living on the streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin District, Tracey Helton Mitchell decided to get clean for good.

With raw honesty and a poignant perspective on life that only comes from starting at rock bottom, Tracey tells her story of transformation from homeless heroin addict to stable mother of three-and the hard work and hard lessons that got her there. Rather than dwelling on the pain of addiction, The Big Fix focuses on her journey of recovery and rebuilding her life, while exposing the failings of the American rehab system…


Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction

By Rebecca Shannonhouse,

Book cover of 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.

Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction

By Rebecca Shannonhouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under the Influence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on two centuries of important literary and historical writings, Rebecca Shannonhouse has shaped a remarkable collection of works that are, in turn, tragic, compelling, hilarious, and enlightening. Together, these selections comprise a profound and truthful portrait of the life experience known as addiction.

Under the Influence offers classic selections from fiction, memoirs, and essays by authors such as Tolstoy, Cheever, Parker, and Poe. Also included are topical gems by writers who illuminate the causes, dangers, pleasures, and public perceptions surrounding people consumed by excessive use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Recent provocative works by Abraham Verghese, the Barthelme brothers,…


Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

By Bill W.,

Book cover of 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.

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

By Bill W.,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Alcoholics Anonymous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many thousands have benefited from "The Big Book" and its simple but profound explanation of the doctrines behind Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. This original 1939 edition outlines the famous 12 steps, and offers counsel for those who wish to join the program but doubt the existence of a higher power. It also contains encouraging personal stories, in which AA members relate their experiences with alcohol and how they found the path to sobriety.
"The Big Book" has gone through numerous editions and remains the most widely used resource for recovering…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in alcoholism, substance abuse, and addiction?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about alcoholism, substance abuse, and addiction.

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