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7 Books to Read If You Want to Understand Addiction Better and Build a Better Life

5 minute read

One of the best ways you can help yourself—or someone else—amidst addiction is to read. Learning from others can help you know what works and what doesn’t. (That’s partly why support groups and an alumni community are so important in recovery!) While no two peoples’ recoveries are exactly the same, there’s no getting through addiction alone. There’s no roadmap for overcoming substance abuse, so learning from each other is crucial. And books are a great way to do that! Whether you are in search of answers to your questions about addiction, support and encouragement, or simply comfort, give these a try.

1. Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

Author Johann Hari explores the topic of addiction in a viral TED Talk titled “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.” (Watch it here.) Hari’s TED Talk came from his personal exploration and research, which went into his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. In this book, Hari looks for answers to the causes of addiction and treatments for it. He views addiction treatment through a broad, socio-political lens, examining how society treats addicts. Filled with anecdotal and research evidence, this is a thought-provoking read on how people view and treat those fighting alcohol addiction and drug use.

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2. Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy by David Sheff

If this author sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of his other well-received book about addiction: Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. In Clean, Sheff digs into why people use drugs and alcohol to begin with. He explains how addiction progresses and details methods for getting and staying clean. In doing so, Sheff explores specific issues like:

  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Medication
  • 12-step programs (specifically AA)
  • And more

The result is a well-informed, comprehensive look at individualized and program interventions. Sheff walks the reader through the problem of addiction and the solutions.

3. Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change (A Guide for Families) by Jeffrey Foote, Carrie Wilkens, Nicole Kosanke, and Stephanie Higgs

Families of those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction often have questions that are difficult to answer. The age-old question of how to support an addict without enabling them is especially tough. Learning from someone else’s expertise can help. Beyond Addiction answers the impossible-seeming questions about how to love someone with an addiction. This book contains material specific for the family (including a list of “Things You Can Change” and various worksheets), as well as information on what addiction is and what motivates people to change. There aren’t many books out there specifically for family members, making this an invaluable resource.

4. Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand

There are many well-known autobiographical books about people’s own struggles with addiction. These books often provide a close look at what addiction is and what it’s like to live with it. Russell Brand’s book isn’t one of them. It focuses more on recovery.

Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions is the comedian/actor’s perspective of recovery as he walks the reader through his interpretation of the 12 steps. Brand’s book is especially useful as a tool in facilitating 12-step-group discussion. It conveys the important message that developing your own understanding and deep personalization of the 12 steps is key to making them work for you.

5. Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

This memoir is a deeply personal account of Knapp’s 20 years as a successful, Ivy-League-prepared, secretly alcoholic editor and columnist. Drinking: A Love Story shines a light on how pervasive addiction is, especially alcoholism, in places where people least expect it. If you struggle or know someone who struggles with high-functioning alcoholism, this is the book for you. Knapp also examines the unique experiences of being a woman and an addict. This is a great read for anyone struggling with alcoholism who may not realize the powerful, devastating effects something so normal and accepted in society can have.

6. A Very Fine House: A Mother’s Story of Love, Faith, and Crystal Meth by Barbara Cofer Stoefen

This is another great read for family members—especially parents—of someone facing addiction. In A Very Fine House, Cofer Stoefen chronicles her journey from idyllic Norman Rockwell family life to being the parent of an unlikely meth addict. This personal story takes a gut-wrenching look at the grief that goes along with a child’s substance abuse: grief for the person your child was, who you thought they’d become, and your own future as you envisioned it. It recounts the brave act of caring for yourself while caring for an addicted loved one. It ends with Cofer Stoefen’s daughter’s recovery, as well as the author’s, and what it took for them both to get there.

7. The Big Book and the Basic Text (AKA Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous)

Although these books may seem obvious, they’re iconic for a reason. The Big Book and the Basic Text, titled by the names of their given fellowships, are must-reads for anyone who identifies as an alcoholic and/or addict. They’re also highly recommended for anyone close to or who works with someone who struggles with substance abuse. The insights found within The Big Book and the Basic Text are unlike any you’ll find in other books. If you attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting, you’re sure to hear excerpts that proved life-changing for someone in the grip of addiction. Many can attest to feeling these books were written just for them.

Once you start reading about addiction and recovery, you have almost no choice but to understand it better. And when you understand something better, you’re in a much better position to change it, whether it’s for yourself or someone else. Don’t miss these seven great books about addiction!

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