One of the hardest things about recovering from substance abuse disorders is the feeling that you are alone and/or misunderstood in your struggles. You may feel unable to articulate both your experiences with addiction and your experiences with recovery. As you start to analyze and think back to the onset of your addiction, you may find yourself unable to point the finger at anything beside yourself.
You may also, in those quiet moments previously consumed by addiction, simply feel bored.
Wherever you are in your recovery, whether it be five years in or before even the start of the detox process, reading books about people who have been through their own struggles with addiction as well as books that contextualize drug abuse within a larger framework of analysis can help you feel less alone and more informed.
In this way, reading can be an act of entertainment, education, and empowerment.
The following are suggestions for some great non-fiction titles about substance use and addiction to feed your mind with.
The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
The Basketball Diaries is a collection of diary entries musician Jim Carroll kept during his adolescent years, edited into a memoir. The story chronicles his years growing up in New York during the 1960s and 1970s, including his crippling heroin addiction, which began when he was only 13 years old. Carroll’s descriptions of the devastating effects of addiction and repeated relapse are brutal in their honesty. It is an intimate look into both the nuances of his addiction and the social unrest of the time.
Dreamland: The True Tales of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones
Dreamland is a thoroughly researched and compassionate account of the opiate epidemic. The book dives into the history of opiates and follows its path all the way into the homes of white suburban America, where the epidemic continues to spread today. Sam Quinones introduces the reader to victims and their families as well as to key players within both the legal and illegal drugs industry. Covering everything from the rancho Xalisco marketers who came up from Mexico with black tar heroin to the drug company that first released an opiate derivative in pill form to the aggressive marketing that changed how medical practices prescribe medication, Dreamland is a fascinating account of the evolution of drug culture and addiction.
American On Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson
Former host of the CBS late-night talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, comedian Craig Ferguson tells his story of growing up in Scotland, full of ambition and anger. To numb the pain of his professional and personal failures, Ferguson turns to drugs and alcohol. His addiction spirals out of control, even leading at one point to an aborted suicide attempt. American On Purpose follows his story through his addiction, his recovery, his life after sobriety, and his eventual success. Dark and funny, this is a sincere story of a larger-than-life personality finding his way.
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté
Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician for The Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, gives the reader a comprehensive look into the science of addiction. A former addict himself, Maté provides personal vignettes as well as stories of some of his patients and their lives. He connects their stories to larger issues such as trauma, brain development, relapse, genetic theory, cross addictions, decriminalization, and more. Impressive in its scope, Maté relays his specialized knowledge in accessible language and calls for more progressive public policy and non-judgmental attitudes regarding addiction.
Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
Author of Running With Scissors August Burroughs recounts his experiences getting sober and entering then leaving rehab, about a decade or so after the events of Running With Scissors. Burroughs is a twentysomething copywriter living in New York pulling down a six-figure salary, but his personal life is a mess — all the makings of high-functioning alcoholic. When his problems with alcohol start to seep into his work life, Burroughs enters rehab and feels immediately out of place. Dry follows Burroughs as he starts to come to terms with his addiction and makes mistake after mistake after leaving rehab before finally finding his footing.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander delivers a scathing criticism of the so-called “War on Drugs” — fueled by federal funds and seized property — which systematically exploits African-American neighborhoods in order to feed the growing private prison industry. Alexander graduated from Stanford Law and worked for the California ACLU, specializing in criminal justice. There, she saw that the American criminal justice system functions much like the Jim Crow laws in the old South, creating a caste system that excludes black people (and working-class black males in particular) from society. Alexander provides a broader perspective on the social, economic, and political frameworks of substance addiction, indicting the “War on Drugs” as a weaponized mechanism of mass incarceration.
A book you can connect to is a valuable tool in your recovery. It can motivate you to recover, keep recovering, and remain in recovery. It can give you a newfound sense of empathy and understanding and encourage you to dig deeper. Addiction is hard, but if these books prove anything, it is that you are not alone.