31 books directly related to addiction 📚

All 31 addiction books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Infinite Jest

By David Foster Wallace,

Book cover of Infinite Jest

Why this book?

One of the best criteria for a book to read in prison is length. Sometimes it’s hard to get more books quickly, and since some facilities have limits on how many books you can have at one time, the longer the better. At 1,079 pages, David Foster Wallace certainly delivers on that front. In the free world, that might seem like a bit of a slog but the book is also funny and has some nuggets of wisdom about addiction and recovery that resonated with me when I read it a decade ago during a brief stint in solitary confinement.


Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel

By Edward T. Welch,

Book cover of Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel

Why this book?

After 30 years of counseling and 1000s of people in bondage to various sexual behaviors, I take a minority view, and do not believe that addiction, and sexual addiction in particular, is a disease; it is a bondage to sin. This book, I believe helps supports that view. I find in counseling, that when you deal with the sin problem as sin, not just a behavior problem, which is a symptom of sin, lives are radically changed. I could give hundreds of examples, but one that stands out was a sexual predator who seduced 100s of women, but after a radical heart change, his marriage survived and he went on to minister and help others, rather than to continue to use others.


Hustle

By Tom Pitts,

Book cover of Hustle

Why this book?

The brilliance of Hustle is the way it juxtaposes the everyday addict's life. Sure, there's the big crime and action, bad guys, car chases. Again, that part fiction. But Hustle lives and breathes in between. In the minutia. Of the doldrums of, as Lou Reed once so eloquently sang, waiting for the man. It's the quiet moments and small conversations between Big Rich and Donny, where we see their humanity. As warped and twisted as the world may be around them, they never lose that appeal: being victims of the human condition. And like I said, living this life with Tom (the drug part), I can honestly say it was those little conversations that give you something to laugh about and a little hope to hold onto. 


The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease

By Marc Lewis,

Book cover of The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease

Why this book?

What if addiction isn’t a chronic relapsing disease, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse? What if a better way to think about it is as a type of learning disorder? Neuroscientist and author Marc Lewis, himself a recovering addict, makes his compelling argument through the stories of five people suffering from substance use disorders. This insightful book left me believing that the attempt to fit addiction into rigid categories does a disservice to the complexity of this condition.


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.


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.


Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes

By Jonathan Shaw,

Book cover of Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes

Why this book?

I picked up Narcisa in Portland’s legendary Powell’s bookstore over ten years ago on a whim and it ended up worming its way into my top ten books of all time. The prose is chaotic, evocative, drippy, disgusting, engaging, fantastic. Narcisa is a predatory, magnetic mess of nature and like the narrator, you’ve got to keep flying with her until she throws you down. I was floored and inspired by Shaw’s ability to tame such a blizzard of turmoil between two thin paper covers.


Don't Make Me Stop This Car!

By Ali Stroker,

Book cover of Don't Make Me Stop This Car!

Why this book?

No list of books for Dads would be complete without this one from my buddy, Al Roker. In Don’t Make Me Stop This Car, Al looks at the highs and lows of being a parent. Not only does it have his classic Roker charm and sense of humor, but he also writes about his experiences with infertility treatments and adoption. It’s become a favorite because he’s been a great friend and mentor to me. 


Wasting Talent

By Ryan Leone,

Book cover of Wasting Talent

Why this book?

This one hurts. Because when I was asked to write this list, Ryan’s book immediately came to mind. Part fiction, part memoir, all hell, Wasted Talent might be the most aptly titled book ever. See, Ryan, who was an amazing writer, talent, and friend, died last week. I don’t know what of. I’m not gonna speculate. But he was in his thirties and wasn’t hit by a car. Over the last few years, Ryan and I weren’t in touch as much, though I did put money on his books when he returned to prison. Ryan’s life and work are a testament to one irrefutable fact. I didn’t go the AA route. But, boy did they get the final destination right. Addiction ends one of three ways: jails, institutions, death. Wasted Talent is Ryan’s only novel. That he didn’t grace the world with more defends his titular choices.


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.


Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

By Sarah Hepola,

Book cover of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

Why this book?

This book does an excellent job describing what it’s like to feel “less than.” For me, that is the crux of my drinking. I truly appreciate that Hepola addresses sexuality patterns for many women alcoholics. It’s difficult to portray this in a way that is understandable but does not excuse the behavior nor shame it. This story is not glamorized and I appreciate that. 


Portrait of Our Marriage

By Martha Emms,

Book cover of Portrait of Our Marriage

Why this book?

Because it is another ‘Faction’ novel. Martha found the inspiration to write this book from dreams, from watching a TV show featuring Oprah Winfrey interviewing various men suffering from an addiction to pornography, and from information given to her by 8 wives whose marriages were affected by their husbands’ addictions. Addiction to porn is a very real problem in these modern times.


Days of Wine and Roses

By J.P. Miller,

Book cover of Days of Wine and Roses

Why this book?

The most valuable lesson I received is that sometimes you have to let loved ones make bad choices. There’s nothing you can do beyond prayer and hope.

This book and the movie portray the good in people who do bad or stupid things. You end up loving the characters no matter how bad their choices. Sadly, many can relate to the story through family, friends, or even themself. The characters are believable and I would wager the author based the story on real life. It’s also an excellent book for anyone needing an introduction to recovery programs like Alanon, ACOA, or Alcoholics Anonymous. The story’s message is important: You have to be willing to change and trust in a power higher than yourself.


Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul

By Melody Beattie,

Book cover of Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul

Why this book?

I stumbled upon a terrific life companion in Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart book. I read a few gentle meditations every evening before bed, and feel both inspired and relaxed. There is definitely a way back to self-compassion and mental well-being and Melody has cleared the rocky path for us. All we have to do is walk it with her. If you have just one book by your bedside as you heal from addiction, this should be the one.


Some Things That Meant the World to Me

By Joshua Mohr,

Book cover of Some Things That Meant the World to Me

Why this book?

I’m starting to feel bad it’s all dudes (and white dudes) on my list, but I think that, despite the fact that these days I only read women-written domestic psychological thrillers (they’re just better at it), when I first got straight I sought out others just like me. I didn’t think recovery was possible. Josh’s book is as harrowing and poignant and gorgeously written as they come. I mean, I think Oprah picked it for a book of the month. What more can you ask for?

Some Things That Meant the World to Me is gritty with plenty of down and dirty. But at the center of Josh’s (and his stand-in Rhonda's) story is a poet's heart (as well as a love letter to my city too, San Francisco).


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.


Drinking: A Love Story

By Caroline Knapp,

Book cover of Drinking: A Love Story

Why this book?

Knapp’s book felt like a friend holding my hand through my early stages of recovery. Her cool and smooth language brilliantly highlights the way alcoholics rationalize the most self-centered actions. I was on perma-nod throughout the read. Knapp describes her obsession with alcohol like falling in love and then breaking up with an abusive lover. There is no more perfect description of the diabolical disease that ends so many lives. Knapp asks many of the same questions I did: “Am I an alcoholic? Was my bottom really that bad?” highlighting how the alcoholic’s mind is never recovered. If not treated, it is always seeking a loophole, a fresh, new way to justify taking that first drink. 


Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More

By Courtney Carver,

Book cover of Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More

Why this book?

It isn’t often that a book comes along that feels surprisingly like sitting in meditation. Soulful Simplicity is that book. I loved the tempo and the energy of it. This book is such a beautiful combination of the art and practice of giving up what does not belong in a life of purpose. I have a copy on my desk to remind me to keep things simple and heartfelt. Courtney Carver has a lovely podcast with her daughter called Soul and Wit which offers us yet another reminder to be kind to ourselves no matter where we are on the journey of self-discovery and joy.


Permanent Midnight: A Memoir

By Jerry Stahl,

Book cover of Permanent Midnight: A Memoir

Why this book?

The gold standard of recovery books. I found this gem literally in the gutter when I was homeless. Changed my life by showing me if I could get my shit together, I, too, could write a book about my experience, and, in the process, maybe help someone else who was suffering as well.


She's Come Undone

By Wally Lamb,

Book cover of She's Come Undone

Why this book?

This is an unforgettable heroine who’s addicted to food. We follow her through her adolescence to womanhood; struggling to untether herself from pain. Heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time: my favorite mix. It also tackles food addiction, which is often overlooked in fiction despite the fact that it’s likely the most relatable one of all.


Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood

By Michael Lewis,

Book cover of Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood

Why this book?

This book follows a dad’s written record of what happened immediately after each of his three children was born. His retelling of the tantrums and the way that your world becomes turned upside down with young kiddos is captured in a way that’s extremely funny, but also relatable. This book is honest and doesn’t sugarcoat what being a dad is really like.


Mennonite Girl at the Welcome Inn

By Mary Ediger,

Book cover of Mennonite Girl at the Welcome Inn

Why this book?

This lovely memoir follows Mary, the daughter of Mennonite Pastors. Her recollections are comical and heartwarming as she deals with growing up in a Mennonite home in a non-Mennonite community. The creativity that goes with being raised with little means and living frugally makes Mary and her family rich beyond belief in adventure and storytelling.


Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

By Bill W.,

Book cover of Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

Why this book?

How can I not recommend the book that has changed so many lives, including mine. If you don’t find a personal story in this book that relates to you, I promise you will recognize a friend, relative, or co-worker. With each edition, fresh stories are added. And, the steps are explained with backstory and details to help find the road to recovery.  It’s a must-have for anyone suffering from addiction or who knows someone who is. 


The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning

By Ernest Kurtz, Katherine Ketcham,

Book cover of The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning

Why this book?

Drawing upon stories from all the great spiritual traditions, Kurtz and Ketcham keep shocking us out of our assumptions about the spiritual life, and inviting us to abandon the pursuit of perfection that many of us identify with it. They pull the rug out from under us, telling us what we don’t expect to hear. There’s something comical about embracing imperfection. But if they’re right, it’s the only real alternative to living tragically. I suggest watching Chaplin’s City Lights and Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box, as you make your way through the chapters of this book.


I Swear I'll Make It Up to You: A Life on the Low Road

By Mishka Shubaly,

Book cover of I Swear I'll Make It Up to You: A Life on the Low Road

Why this book?

In 1992, Mishka Shubaly survived a mass shooting at his school, his parents divorced, his father abandoned him, and he swore he would right all the wrongs for his mother. Instead, he began a love affair with the bottle and barely crawled out, but he did, and we cheer him on at each twist and turn in his journey.


Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol

By Veronica Valli,

Book cover of Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol

Why this book?

Veronica is one of the original voices out there talking about addiction and recovery—and it shows in this book. While the book shares personal experience, it also calls on her years as a psychotherapist and recovery coach. And yet, unlike most addiction and recovery books out there, it references many of the other leaders in the recovery movement—everyone from Gabor Mate to movies that touch on recovery.


Can Your Teen Survive—and Thrive—Without a Smartphone?

By Melanie Hempe,

Book cover of Can Your Teen Survive—and Thrive—Without a Smartphone?

Why this book?

This gem of a book presents the argument that parents should consider delaying giving their children smartphones until the child becomes an adult and has attained certain life skills. A mother of four, former nurse, and founder of ScreenStrong, author Melanie Hempe lived through digital addiction in her own family and is passionate about helping other families avoid her “mistakes”. At the same time she is well-versed in the current scientific literature across a broad array of tech-related topics, and she successfully “walks the talk”: her teens abstain from gaming/social media/smartphone use, but they are far from being socially ostracized - a common fear amongst parents.


How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z

By Ann Marlowe,

Book cover of How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z

Why this book?

The book pushed all my buttons. Marlowe has brief-ish relationship with heroin in NYC in the ’90s and apparently, can “just stop.” Her studied reflections on heroin and its culture are cemented in absolute resistance to the idea that addiction is a disease. For me, this is a dangerous concept that makes me cringe, as much of her book did. But her resolute intelligence and ego make for fascinating reading. With a frown, I reflected on phrases like, “Living in an eternal present is not good for us, no matter how much we want it.” Her book reminded me of the many ways people define addiction. It inspired me to get crystal clear on my viewpoint before I took pen to page.


Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity

By Saundra Dalton-Smith,

Book cover of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity

Why this book?

If you desire to be well this is the first step on the journey. Dr. Saundra is a truly kind and compassionate doctor. She guides us through the tough issues of not taking proper care of ourselves and offers inspiration on how to give us a soft place to rest. She gives us action steps we can do every day to reclaim our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. I was thrilled to be an invited guest on her ground-breaking I Choose My Best Life podcast to talk about resilience and recovery from addiction. I hope you love this book as much as I did!


Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts

By Harriet Lerner,

Book cover of Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts

Why this book?

Get ready to get real. My favorite lesson of this book is "the validation you deserve will not come from the person who hurt you." That's powerful, am I right? I loved every chapter of this book and continue to think about how to give a true and honest apology when I need to. Watch out for that faux apology, which sounds something like "I'm sorry you got your feelings hurt."  Dr. Lerner’s book can transform how you interact with others and when you need to step back to protect yourself and your heart. A gem for folks in recovery.


Orangutan: A Memoir

By Colin Broderick,

Book cover of Orangutan: A Memoir

Why this book?

Orangutan is a working-class opus. Broderick excels in his display of the grind and how some men can weather and accept, as the Boss sings, dying little by little, piece by piece, and how others need more help to make it through the day. The most compelling part of Broderick's writing is the way he is able to delineate between the haves and have-nots. And, no, I don't mean money. Some men can drink a six-pack on the weekend, even do some blow. They'll be fine. Others? Like Colin? A shot is too much of an allure. Not just to get drunk, wasted, blotto. It goes way deeper. It's a form of wakeful suicide. You get through the day. You get your paycheck. You survive. But the price is not living.