14 Lifechanging Books on Addiction & Recovery

Holly Jespersen
Books on shelves, photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

I started reading addiction memoirs in college, well before I admitted to having an alcohol use disorder. I think I subconsciously knew it, but was in total denial. Why else would I have been mesmerized by When a Man Loves a Woman or 28 Days in my early 20s? These movies and books let me know I was not alone, that there were other people walking around who drank like I did.

I distinctly remember reading my most favorite addiction memoir ever, Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, at age 22. I would only read the book secretly in my room, out of fear that someone would see me reading it. I spent hours in the self-help section at Barnes & Noble in Georgetown, D.C., seeking the solutions to my problems. Little did I know that there was an answer, and it involved finally getting away from alcohol.

Having been in recovery for many years, and working here at Shatterproof, I often get asked to recommend books about addiction. So here’s a list of my all-time favorite reads about substance use disorders. Maybe these stories can help another young woman out there.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

I felt like Sarah wrote my story. I very much related to her always feeling “less than” in normal life, and only becoming confident and alive once she poured alcohol down her throat.

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

My ultimate addiction memoir. I wish I could have met Caroline before she passed away. This was the first book I read on this subject, and I instantly could relate to her feelings. She was part of the reason I eventually got sober. She made a huge impact on me and is someone I will always be grateful to.

Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa Smith

Again, Lisa tells my story. I too was a high-functioning professional with a drinking and cocaine addiction. My addiction always took me to new lows, and cost me many jobs over the years.

Unwifeable: A Memoir by Mandy Stadtmiller

Mandy’s honesty touched me deeply. I did many things I am deeply ashamed of, and reading her book taught me that I am not alone. I want to meet her and give her a big hug.

Party Girl: A Novel by Anna David

I simply love this novel. I used to work in fashion/beauty/celebrity PR, and I related to her lifestyle before she got sober. I thought my party-girl ways were so glamourous, but it was really sad and unfulfilling, despite the glitz and glamour. It was shiny on the outside and empty on the inside.

Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism by George McGovern

This book broke my heart. Terry achieved long-term sobriety at one time, and she helped many women. She sadly relapsed and eventually died. It made me realize the pain I would have brought to my parents if they had lost me.

Parched by Heather King

I really liked this book because it focuses a lot on her spiritual crisis and how it related to her alcoholism. She is a Christian, as am I, and I often battled in my head with being a Christian and being an alcoholic. Eventually my faith brought me to my knees and I began my journey of sobriety after having a spiritual experience. My faith is the foundation for my sobriety today.

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man and 90 Days by Bill Clegg

Clegg is an incredible writer. He comes from the book publishing world and, again, was someone who was successful and smart, but in active addiction. He lost trust of people around him and in his field, but through sobriety he has been able to regain that trust and help many people along the way.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

James went to my college, Denison University, and is friends with many of my friends, so I loved reading the parts that took place (“fictionally”) in Granville, Ohio. This is one of the first books I read about addiction ever, before I realized I had a problem.

Guts by Kristen Johnston

This book is unreal. It’s amazing that Kristen has survived. What an incredible story of addiction and recovery. Kristen is raw, funny and holds nothing back. I simply adore her.

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

This book is completely honest. I love Mackenzie’s rawness, and her incredible recovery that has impacted so many others to find recovery. (She was also a childhood favorite of mine on “One Day at a Time”—ironic title!)

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

I could not put this book down (literally), talk about gut-wrenching honesty and not holding anything back. When I worked in beauty, Cat was a beauty editor at Lucky and xoJane.com, so I knew of her. I found this book uncomfortable at times and very funny at other times. It is the real deal and Cat is a talented writer, but most of all a survivor.

My Fair Junkie by Amy Dresner

I have not read this one yet, but it’s next on my list. I’ve heard so many rave reviews of this book!


Holly Jespersen is Shatterproof’s Senior Communications Manager.