If you’ve been around the blog or have been a reader for a while, you know by now I have a brother who is an addict. I’ve made a conscious effort to talk about him (with his permission) as well as addiction to help dispel some of the shame associated with it.
You’ll also know my love for reading and desire to share the things I read with other people.
So I wanted to compile a list of books relating to addiction that I have read. I’m the type of person who wants to get their hands on as much information as possible especially when it relates to something I’m going through or something that relates to my life or someone in my family. Reading memoirs of people who suffer from addiction, or reading books written by people who love an addict was helpful for me as I struggled to know how best to help my brother while at the same time preserving my own life, sanity and family. Although there often seems to be no good answers when it comes to addiction, it helped me to know other people felt the way I felt or struggled with the things I struggled with. It was also helpful to see how the addict thinks when they’re going through all of this.
People always ask how I even have time to read. It comes down to the fact that it’s a priority for me. I have the Kindle app on my phone and I read in little increments throughout the day and I always read before I fall asleep. “Reading is my inhale, Writing is my exhale” (Glennon Melton said that and it’s pure truth for me).
Here is a list of books I read and appreciated relating to drug/alcohol addiction:
(you can pin this to save for reference later)
**Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back by Josh Hamilton (last I checked this was on sale for $3.99 on Kindle).
“Josh Hamilton was the first player chosen in the first round of the 1999 baseball draft. He was destined to be one of those rare “high-character ” superstars. But in 2001, working his way from the minors to the majors, all of the plans for Josh went off the rails in a moment of weakness. What followed was a 4-year nightmare of drugs and alcohol, estrangement from friends and family, and his eventual suspension from baseball.”
This is one of my favorites and proof that money, fame, or even a supportive and loving family don’t keep people from using. Hamilton recently had another relapse. I’m not sure what his current status is, but I hope he can find the strength to stay sober and deal with the issues that are causing him to use in the first place.
**The Lost Years: Surviving a Mother and Daughter’s Worst Nightmare by Kristina Wandzilak
“A child caught in the horror of alcohol and drug addition. A mother helplessly standing by unable to save her. The Lost Years is the real life story of just such a mother and child, each giving their first-hand accounts of the years lost to addiction and despair.”
This one is super interesting as it has two perspectives. One from the addict (Kristina) and one from the mother. It’s always intriguing to hear two sides of a story. My brother often has one version of what he thinks happened, and we’ll (his family) have an entirely different version.
The author also had a show on TLC for a little while called “Addicted”. It was an intervention type show but not a surprise intervention (like the show “Intervention”). The addicts on the show knew what it was. I corresponded a little with Kristina about my brother. Not to put him on the show, but to get some advice. She was kind and helpful.
**A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
“At the age of 23, James Frey woke up on a plane to find his front teeth knocked out and his nose broken. He had no idea where the plane was headed nor any recollection of the past two weeks. An alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three, he checked into a treatment facility shortly after landing. There he was told he could either stop using or die before he reached age 24. This is Frey’s acclaimed account of his six weeks in rehab.”
This book has taken a lot of heat (most notably from Oprah) because apparently Frey embellished the truth a bit. He lied. But for me, that makes it even better. Because that’s what addicts do. They lie. And you never really know what to believe. It’s still a really interesting book.
**please note–if you are offended by the “f” word, you’ll want to skip this one. It is used quite frequently**
**Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nik Sheff
“Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Even so, he felt like he would always be able to quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise. In a voice that is raw and honest, Nic spares no detail in telling us the compelling, heartbreaking, and true story of his relapse and the road to recovery. As we watch Nic plunge the mental and physical depths of drug addiction, he paints a picture for us of a person at odds with his past, with his family, with his substances, and with himself. It’s a harrowing portrait—but not one without hope.”
My brother was quite young when he had his first taste of alcohol (at a friends house) so I can relate to this early start. This book compliments his father’s memoir (listed below).
**Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff
“What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets. David Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs: the denial, the 3 A.M. phone calls (is it Nic? the police? the hospital?), the rehabs. His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every avenue of treatment that might save his son and refused to give up on Nic.
Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help.”
I think this is a good one for parents of an addict to read. And family members. Painfully describes many of the emotions, thoughts, regrets we go through as we wonder what happened and how could we have stopped this?
“Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls’ home. At age fifteen, Liz found herself on the streets when her family finally unraveled. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep.
When Liz’s mother died of AIDS, she decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. Liz squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman’s indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.”
This is an account of what it’s like to be the child of an addict. This was hard for me to read some of the time and often unbelievable. But it’s a heroic story of survival and proof each of us is in charge of our own destiny.
**Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover
“When Conover’s request to shadow a recruit at the New York State Corrections Officer Academy was denied, he decided to apply for a job as a prison officer. So begins his odyssey at Sing Sing, once a model prison but now the state’s most troubled maximum-security facility. The result of his year there is this remarkable look at one of America’s most dangerous prisons, where drugs, gang wars, and sex are rampant, and where the line between violator and violated is often unclear.”
A little different twist on the world of addiction. A huge percentage of people end up in jail/prison as a result of drug/alcohol abuse and/or the choices they make while high/drunk. This book walked a fine line between horrific and fascinating. My brother spent a lot of time in jail (never in prison–he was only in jail for public intoxication). This gave me some insight into how bad it can be on the inside. Definitely not a place I ever want to be or ever want my family to be.
**warning: this book is highly graphic and has a lot of unclean language–thus is jail life. If that offends you, skip this one as well**
This last books is one recommend by my youngest brother who is an addiction psychiatrist. He recommends this to many of the people (and their family’s) that he treats.
**Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change by Jeffrey Foote
“Delivered with warmth, optimism, and humor, Beyond Addiction defines a new, empowered role for friends and family and a paradigm shift for the field. This new approach is not only less daunting for both the substance abuser and his family, but is more effective as well. Learn how to use the transformative power of relationships for positive change, guided by exercises and examples. Practice what really works in therapy and in everyday life, and discover many different treatment options along with tips for navigating the system. And have hope: this guide is a life raft for parents, family, and friends—offering ‘reminders that although no one can make another person change, there is much that can be done to make change seem appealing and possible'”
I’ve added this one to my reading list. Though my brother is currently sober (after being hit by a car and spending 3 weeks in ICU with a traumatic brain injury), I still continue to read all I can about addiction. My experiences through his addiction have largely shaped my outlook on life and people in general and it’s something I will continue to learn about and talk about the rest of my life. Addiction is a scary beast that never truly goes away. Once an addict, always an addict. I believe people can and do get and stay sober. But there’s always the lurking fear the addictions and habits and behaviors will come back. I look forward to reading this book for future reference should we need it, or for encouragement for other families suffering as ours did (and still does).
If you or someone you love suffers from addiction, you may be interested in the series of essays I’ve posted from people who love addicts. You can find them under “real stories” and scroll down to the “addiction” section.