The 9 Most Moving Memoirs About Addiction
Over the past several decades, books falling under the umbrella of "addiction memoir" have become omnipresent. Whether you’re well-versed in the subject or totally new to it, here are nine of the smartest and most moving examples.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
After writing four novels, Fisher turner her writerly focus inward, adapting her successful one-woman stage show into a darkly funny and raw memoir about growing up as Hollywood royalty, landing the role of a lifetime at 19 years old and learning from failed relationships, all while struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health issues. Not just another celebrity memoir, Fisher’s book strikes the ideal balance between gossip-y entertainment and razor-sharp commentary.
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
You thought the movie was heart-wrenching? Sheff’s harrowing account of his son Nic’s descent into crystal meth addiction charts a father’s (and a family’s) realization that the happy son he thought he knew has become someone who’s hurting himself and others. Full of moments both tragic and beautiful, Sheff’s book is best consumed with a box of tissues nearby. (For what it’s worth, Nic’s companion book, Tweak, is also worth a read.)
The Night of the Gun by David Carr
Before his death in 2015, Carr was a beloved New York Times journalist. Calling on his skills as a reporter, Carr used 60 videotaped interviews, legal and medical records and three years of research and reporting to share his journey from crack-house regular to lauded columnist. Fact-checking his own past, Carr’s investigation of his own life dives deep into his experiences with addiction, recovery, cancer and life as a single parent.
Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg
Clegg had a thriving life as a literary agent when he walked away from his seemingly-fulfilling world for a two-month crack binge. Having just been released from rehab nine months earlier, his relapse cost him his home, money, career and almost his life. Capturing the drama, tension, paranoia and short-term bliss of drug addiction, his book explores how the patterns of addiction can be traced to the past.
Lit by Mary Karr
Where the best-selling 1995 book The Liars’ Club focused on Karr’s sometimes rough Texas childhood, her 2009 follow-up is about the aftermath of said childhood, a blurry recollection of getting drunk and getting sober and becoming a mother by letting go of a mother. Occasionally reminiscent of Sylvia Plath, Karr’s writing style is simultaneously unsentimental and moving.
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
Caroline Knapp’s love affair with alcohol started in her early teens. She went on to drink her way through four years at an Ivy League college and an award-winning career as an editor and columnist. Marrying personal stories with statistics and research, her candid memoir exposes the secrecy, myths and destruction related to alcoholism, as well as her eventual triumph over the disease that controlled her life for more than two decades.
Parched by Heather King
King is a writer, lawyer and NPR contributor whose memoir chronicles her decades-long downward spiral into alcoholism, from her small New England hometown to seedy restaurants where she waitressed and cockroach-ridden lofts where she lived. Eventually saved by her family, King writes with equal parts sensitivity and humor about redemption and compassion for others.
Blackout by Sarah Hepola
When she was drunk, writer and editor Hepola was a creative force. But she was also reckless, often finding herself soberly apologizing for things she didn’t remember doing, waking up next to men she didn’t remember meeting and caring for bruises she didn’t remember getting. Subtitled “Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget,” Hepola’s debut memoir is a vulnerable story about refocusing her attention from finding her next drink to learning how to love herself without liquid enhancements.
The Recovering by Leslie Jamison
In her early 20s, writer Jamison (The Empathy Exams) started drinking daily to ease her chronic shyness and deal with the stress of getting her master’s degree at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Identifying with accomplished writers whose creativity seemed to thrive in a haze of intoxication, she fell further into the depths of alcoholism before hitting rock bottom. After failed attempts at sobriety, she found a combination of treatments—attending meetings, sharing her story and the 12-step AA program—that worked for her. Despite being published less than a year ago, Jamison’s memoir is a gritty and honest must-read.