The best books about alcoholism

16 authors have picked their favorite books about alcoholism and why they recommend each book.

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Under the Influence

By James R. Milam, Katherine Ketcham,

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

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.

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.

Alcoholics Anonymous

By Bill W.,

Book cover of Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big 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. 


Who am I?

I can say in truth and with humor, that I’m overqualified on this topic. My parents are both alcoholics, I followed suit along with two siblings and married into the club, not once but twice. Thank God my second marriage was to a recovering alcoholic. Today I’m approaching 30 years of sobriety while hubby remains in the lead with 34 years. Knowing what it’s like to live with another alcoholic, practice the art yourself and find a way through it, should be the equivalent of a doctorate on addiction. I know the pain, denial, struggle, and all the lies. Most importantly, I have the heart to help others who, like myself, march on the front line of this battle.


I co-wrote...

In Spite Of Us: A Love Story about Second Chances

By Deb Palmer, Sandy Palmer,

Book cover of In Spite Of Us: A Love Story about Second Chances

What is my book about?

A raw, authentic story written in dual perspectives by two alcoholics, now married and in recovery. Sandy is sober, moving toward God and a better life. Deb is not sober. She believes a sober life would be like staying awake through major surgery.  What happens when this unlikely match agrees to a blind date? Solo, they're a mess, but as a duet? God help them! They are modern-day characters right out of the Bible. Remember the sheep? That pesky fellow wandering off causing the shepherd to leave the ninety-nine and take care of it? That's them. What lengths will God go to save this couple from their worst enemy--themselves?

Pastrix

By Nadia Bolz-Weber,

Book cover of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Founder of a church called House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, Nadia Bolz-Weber describes her path from a Fundamentalist upbringing to agnostic comedian to Lutheran pastor. Walking with people who had long been forgotten, dismissed, or condemned by mainstream American Christianity, Bolz-Weber has brought the traditional Reformation message of God’s unconditional love to life in new ways. With stories that range from vulnerable to hilarious, this book is fun to read and full of refreshing insights about God, church, hospitality, and grace.


Who am I?

When I was going to church as a kid, I noticed there were a lot of things about faith that were really important to people but that they rarely talked about. In my work as a pastor, professor, and church historian, I’ve tried to identify and name those core values, so that we can learn from one another, share our beliefs in meaningful and respectful ways, and grow together as we explore life’s big questions and practice living out our beliefs in the here and now.


I wrote...

Stories from Global Lutheranism: A Historical Timeline

By Martin Lohrmann,

Book cover of Stories from Global Lutheranism: A Historical Timeline

What is my book about?

There are about 80 million Lutheran in the world today. While Lutheran communities started in central and northern Europe, there are now more Lutherans in Ethiopia than in Sweden, more in Tanzania than the United States, and more in Indonesia than in Norway. Selecting ten vignettes from each of the five centuries since Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517, I wrote this book to show how Lutherans have lived out their faith in a variety of times and places to become a truly global branch of Christianity.

Terry

By George McGovern,

Book cover of Terry: My Daughter's Life-And-Death Struggle with Alcoholism

In a world where addiction is associated with “abuse” and “addicts” are often depicted as morally depraved, physically unfit, and mentally unsound, it’s not difficult to figure out why people suffering from addiction – and their family members– are in denial. They simply don’t fit the stereotype. When Terry McGovern, daughter of Senator George McGovern, was a college student, she drank an average of five or six beers, three or four shots of hard liquor, or a bottle of wine every day. Despite her increasingly heavy drinking, occasional marijuana and barbiturate use, and suicidal behavior, Terry’s psychotherapist did not believe that she was an alcoholic; instead, he diagnosed her underlying problems as depression and unresolved psychological conflicts – a clear case of “professional denial.” It’s a fact that many of us have experienced childhood trauma. But when drug use continues despite serious and recurring problems, the “real problem” that must…

Who am I?

Katherine Ketcham is the coauthor of 17 books about alcoholism/addiction, recovery, spirituality, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and empathy. She is also the author of the memoir, The Only Life I Could Save. She recently updated and revised her first book, Under the Influence: A Life-Saving Guide to the Myths & Realities of Alcoholism, for a 40th anniversary edition (published in September 2021 by Penguin Random House).  A dedicated photographer, columnist, and storyteller, she isn't sure what her 70s have in store for her but she's saving 12 hours of every day for her husband, three children, two grandchildren, extended family, and friends.  Books, walks, golf, yoga, gardening, story-collecting, daydreaming, and a good night's sleep should fill up the rest.


I wrote...

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

What is my book about?

Tens of millions of Americans suffer from alcoholism, yet most people still wrongly believe that alcoholism is a psychological or moral problem, and that it can be cured by psychotherapy or sheer willpower. Based on groundbreaking scientific research, Under The Influence examines the physical factors that set alcoholics and non-alcoholics apart, and suggests a bold, stigma-free way of understanding and treating the alcoholic.

Drinking

By Caroline Knapp,

Book cover of Drinking: A Love Story

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. 


Who am I?

I am a two-time kidney-transplanted author and occasional actor. Born in Toronto, LA-raised and currently living in Winnipeg with my husband, Kevin, I love dogs, books, and being sober. When my father died of alcoholism at 38, I did not understand it was a disease. 11 years ago, my addiction escalated to the point of overdose during the year my husband gave me a kidney. When I went into rehab, writing became vital to my healing, and my memoir was born. I am passionate about enlightening readers to the world of chronic illness and pain and the spiritual component to recovery. (Warning: I will interrupt you mid-sentence if I see a dog.)


I wrote...

In Pillness and in Health: A memoir

By Henriette Ivanans,

Book cover of In Pillness and in Health: A memoir

What is my book about?

What if your husband gave you a kidney and you drank beer with your painkillers the next day? Meet Henriette and Kevin. As newlyweds, they move to LA to conquer Hollywood. When the dream fades, Henriette finds a secret life in Pills. Diagnosed with a rejecting kidney transplant, her part-time narcotic trysts explode into a full-blown pharmaceutical affair. One backstabbing day, Pills lead her to her first overdose. Shattered, Kevin talks the ER out of a psychiatric hold. Kevin believes donating his kidney will save his wife’s life and heal their marriage. But is it too late? Their story shines new light in the dark corners of addiction and codependency, as we wonder how many devastating diseases can one marriage survive?

Blackout

By Sarah Hepola,

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

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. 


Who am I?

I can say in truth and with humor, that I’m overqualified on this topic. My parents are both alcoholics, I followed suit along with two siblings and married into the club, not once but twice. Thank God my second marriage was to a recovering alcoholic. Today I’m approaching 30 years of sobriety while hubby remains in the lead with 34 years. Knowing what it’s like to live with another alcoholic, practice the art yourself and find a way through it, should be the equivalent of a doctorate on addiction. I know the pain, denial, struggle, and all the lies. Most importantly, I have the heart to help others who, like myself, march on the front line of this battle.


I co-wrote...

In Spite Of Us: A Love Story about Second Chances

By Deb Palmer, Sandy Palmer,

Book cover of In Spite Of Us: A Love Story about Second Chances

What is my book about?

A raw, authentic story written in dual perspectives by two alcoholics, now married and in recovery. Sandy is sober, moving toward God and a better life. Deb is not sober. She believes a sober life would be like staying awake through major surgery.  What happens when this unlikely match agrees to a blind date? Solo, they're a mess, but as a duet? God help them! They are modern-day characters right out of the Bible. Remember the sheep? That pesky fellow wandering off causing the shepherd to leave the ninety-nine and take care of it? That's them. What lengths will God go to save this couple from their worst enemy--themselves?

Alcoholic Republic

By William J. Rorabaugh,

Book cover of Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition

Rorabaugh argues convincingly that alcohol of several types—but mostly rum and whisky—were part and parcel of, and at times even drove, early national American culture. Solo and group binges increased from 1790 to 1820 as the population tried to adapt to anxious and uncertain changes in their lives. Drinking became aligned with liberty—taverns were the “seedbeds of the revolution” and the “nurseries of freedom.” And although boozing came to be an early element in what was defined as the American character, the temperance movement was not far off.


Who am I?

I’m a professor at Northland College (WI) and an American environmental historian with specialties in wine, food, and horticulture. I mostly write on alcohol, garden history, botany, and orchids. The history of alcohol is wild, fraught, and charged with power—I’ll never tire of learning about it.


I wrote...

Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America

By Erica Hannickel,

Book cover of Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America

What is my book about?

The lush, sun-drenched vineyards of California evoke a romantic, agrarian image of winemaking, though in reality, the industry reflects American agribusiness at its most successful. Nonetheless, this fantasy is deeply rooted in the history of grape cultivation in America. Empire of Vines traces the development of wine culture as grape growing expanded from New York to the Midwest before gaining ascendancy in California--a progression that illustrates viticulture's centrality to the nineteenth-century American projects of national expansion and the formation of a national culture.

The Boy Most Likely to

By Huntley Fitzpatrick,

Book cover of The Boy Most Likely to

Bad boy, Tim, has struggled with drinking and now is a member of AA and is trying to start his life over. He and my character, Christopher, could attend AA meetings together and I am always happy to find a young adult character who is a reformed bad boy and trying to stay sober with AA and this story does not disappoint. 


Who am I?

Bad boys in young adult romance have always been one of my favorite tropes to read. For seven years, I facilitated a poetry workshop with teens in a juvenile detention center and got to hear their stories—the heartbreak, the challenges, and the triumphs under all that bad boy façade. My memoir, Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention, is about the workshops and helped me understand both myself as a writer and the “bad boys” who wrote poetry each week. There are a lot of complexities to bad boy characters and the most satisfying stories are the ones where the bad boys redeem themselves and find love. 


I wrote...

Weaving Magic

By Mindy Hardwick,

Book cover of Weaving Magic

What is my book about?

Can Shantel and Christopher move beyond magical illusions to find love? He loves magic. She loves romance. But the biggest illusion is the one Shantel and Christopher perform together. Sixteen-year-old Christopher fights to stay sober while fifteen-year-old Shantel struggles in the aftermath of her mother’s death and seeks refuge in a fantasy world.

But the unacknowledged roots of their problems refuse to stay buried and soon, the two are headed toward a deadly magic trick.

A House Is a Body

By Shruti Swamy,

Book cover of A House Is a Body: Stories

A really great short story collection can sweep you off your feet and take you to a lot of different places, in a way that novels can't quite manage. And Swamy's debut collection is haunting in the best possible way. These dreamlike stories feature characters who are lost and dislocated, carried along by other people's desires, and the best of them have something to say about art as well as relationships. In one story, an artist who is descending into alcoholism gets into a relationship with the god Krishna, and in another, a "laughter artist" has perfected her laughter to the point where all laughter seems artificial. Swamy conveys the feeling of being lost but seen, in a really beautiful, arresting way.


Who am I?

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, which Time Magazine listed as one of the hundred best fantasy novels of all time. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night, Victories Greater than Death, and Never Say You Can't Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories. She organizes the long-running spoken word series Writers With Drinks, helps to organize tours of local bookstores, and also co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. Her short fiction has appeared in Tin House, Conjunctions, Wired Magazine, Slate, and the Boston Review.


I wrote...

Even Greater Mistakes

By Charlie Jane Anders,

Book cover of Even Greater Mistakes

What is my book about?

Even Greater Mistakes is a collection of 19 short stories that straddle the line between speculative fiction and literary fiction. These stories explore the saving power of love, friendship, and community in the face of total absurdity and weirdness. In "Six Months, Three Days," two people who can see the future enter into a relationship they know is doomed. In "Don't Press Charges and I Won't Sue," a trans woman is trapped in a nightmarish facility with her former best friend. In "The Bookstore at the End of America," the United States has broken into two separate countries, with a tiny bookstore straddling the new border.

These stories have won the Hugo, Locus, and Sturgeon awards.

Falling in Love When You Thought You Were Through

By Jill Robinson, Stuart Shaw,

Book cover of Falling in Love When You Thought You Were Through: A Love Story

This true story of love and lasting marriage in later life is told by the husband and wife in alternating first-person voices. Ingrained habits of social and personal life and relationships with both parents and children all create stumbling blocks as the two lovers strive to create a unified way of life. I admire this book for its frank and vivid presentation of the pitfalls that can threaten a union of two individuals who meet in late middle age, already well set on their paths. In its presentation of problems and solutions, this book offers the most “self-help” of these five recommendations.


Who am I?

Widowed at age fifty and now eighty-four, I know first hand the search for love in late life. I have three adult children and can't avoid bringing baggage to any new relationship, whether with humans or the cats I adore. Coming to writing seriously only after my husband’s death, I remain fascinated by questions of craft, how the story is told (as my recommendations show), and I’ve published several essays on aspects of that subject. My first career in dance, my conversion to Catholicism, and my psychoanalytic therapy have been major parts of my life and play significant roles in my memoir, my novel, and my more recent novella and stories.


I wrote...

Side by Side but Never Face to Face: A Novella & Stories

By Maggie Kast,

Book cover of Side by Side but Never Face to Face: A Novella & Stories

What is my book about?

In these linked stories Maggie Kast asks, “Can new love be found in old age?” Greta, her narrator, has been wrenched from a long and tightly-circled marriage to Manfred, an Austrian Holocaust survivor. With different backgrounds, they sometimes abrade each other, but the friction strikes sparks, and the marriage remains vital. This book will open your heart to love that endures, transcends fear, dissolves old ideas of desire, and invites new desiring.

Says Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanliness and What Belongs to You, “Maggie Kast has a gift for illuminating her characters’ inner lives, and these beautiful stories, as they shuttle gracefully between past and present, Europe and America, strike a profound and satisfying balance between intimacy and mystery...a wise and powerful book.”

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