The 15 most powerful memoirs about addiction and recovery
In Leslie Jamison’s new memoir The Recovering, she cites the great writers before her who’ve battled alcoholism and addiction. Indeed, she’s hardly the first: Many celebrated authors have walked the long, painful road to recovery, spinning their experiences into powerful reads. Ahead, see the 15 stories of struggle, failure, recovery, and grace us the most.
The Recovering by Leslie Jamison
The Empathy Exams author’s stunning new book juxtaposes her own relationship to addiction with stories of literary legends like Raymond Carver, and imbues it with rich cultural history. The result is a definitive treatment of the American recovery movement, a memoir in the subgenre like no other. Read EW’s review, and order a copy here.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Based on Fisher’s hugely successful one-woman show, Wishful Drinking is the story of growing up in Hollywood royalty, battling addiction, and dealing with manic depression. Her first memoir is an inside look at her famous parents’ marriage and her own tumultuous love affairs (including her on-again, off-again relationship with Paul Simon). Most notably, it’s a brutally honest – and hilarious – reflection on the late writer’s path to sobriety. Order a copy here.
How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
At the age of 15, Cat Marnell began to unknowingly “murder her life” when she became hooked on the ADHD medication prescribed to her by her psychiatrist father. A Xanax dependence led to cocaine, ecstasy, and a tumbling rabbit hole of prescription drug abuse as she manipulated doctors, lied to loved ones, and struggled to maintain her high-profile job at Condé Nast amidst the highs and lows of addiction. Order a copy here.
We All Fall Down by Nic Sheff
In his follow-up to his first memoir, Tweak, which dealt with his journey into meth addiction, Sheff details his struggle to stay clean. In and out of rehab, he falls into relapse, engaging in toxic relationships and other self-destructive behaviors that threaten to undo the hard-won progress he’s made. Order a copy here.
Smashed by Koren Zailckas
Koren Zalickas began drinking at a young age – 14 years old. From her first taste and throughout her young adult life, her increasing dependence on alcohol would lead to hospital trips, blackouts, and dangerous and destructive tendencies that eventually helped her see she should quit drinking for good. Order a copy here.
More, Now, Again by Elizabeth Wurtzel
The acclaimed author of Prozac Nation goes from depression to addiction with this equally devastating personal account. Wurtzel reveals how drugs fueled her post-breakout period, describing with unbearable specificity how her doctor's prescription of Ritalin, intended to help her function, only brought her down. Order a copy here.
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
Journalist Caroline Knapp describes her life as a functioning alcoholic in this memoir that details the roots of her issues to the crises that led her to finally confront her drinking problem. Drinking: A Love Story chronicles how Knapp’s upper-class upbringing affected her mental health and spawned her addiction, and how another memoir – Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life – set her on the road to recovery. Order a copy here.
Parched: A Memoir by Heather King
A person of extraordinary intellect, Heather King is a lawyer and writer/commentator for NPR – as well as a recovering alcoholic who spent years descending from functional alcoholism to barely functioning at all. From graduating cum laude from law school despite her excessive drinking to languishing in dive bars, King presents a clear-eyed look at her past and what brought her out of the haze of addiction. Order a copy here.
Lit by Mary Karr
Prolific, brilliant memoirist Mary Karr shines a light on the dark years she spent descending into alcoholism and drug use as a young writer, wife, and mother. As her marriage dissolved and she struggled to find a reason to stay clean, Karr turned to Catholicism as a light at the end of the tunnel. Order a copy here.
Junky by William S. Burroughs
In his first novel, Burroughs gives a vivid, semi-autobiographical account of heroin addiction in the early 1950s. A reflection of the beat generation, the fictionalized Burroughs (“Bill Lee”) navigates the underworld of opiate addiction as both user and small-time dealer and explores subjects completely taboo in the '50s – not only drugs, but of homosexuality as well. Order a copy here.
Permanent Midnight by Jerry Stahl
Jerry Stahl was a writer with significant and successful screenwriting credits – Dr. Caligari, Twin Peaks, Moonlighting, and more. But despite that success, Stahl’s heroin habit began to consume him, derailing his career and destroying his health until one final, intense crisis inspired him to get clean. Order a copy here.
Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska
Lena Dunham called Drunk Mom “an intense, complex and disturbing story” that left her “jaw on the floor.” So don’t just take our word for it: This story of one new mother’s descent back into the depths of alcoholism is an excruciating memoir that you can’t turn away from. Order a copy here.
The Night of the Gun by David Carr
The Esteemed and late New York Times columnist David Carr turned his journalistic eye on his own life in this memoir, investigating his own past as a cocaine addict and sifting through muddied memories to discover the truth. The story follows Carr’s unbelievable arc through addiction, recovery, cancer, and life as a single parent to come to an understanding of what those dark years meant. Order a copy here.
Dry by Augusten Burroughs
More than half a million copies have been sold of this pained reflection. The Running With Scissors author recounts what his rock bottom looked like and tells his story of healing, but what makes this book unique is the LGBTQ component: Burroughs attends a queer-focused rehab facility and encounters AIDS and other specific problems in his recovery process. Order a copy here.
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
We’ve already introduced you to Nic Sheff, but here’s the equally resonant story told by his father: his journey through his son’s addiction. The book has been adapted into what’s shaping into a prime awards contender this year: a film of the same name starring Oscar nominees Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, and Amy Ryan as the Sheff family. Order a copy here.