6 Books for Parents of Substance Abusers

October 17, 2022

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Books, both fiction and nonfiction, can be a helpful resource to understand addiction, especially if it isn’t something you’ve gone through yourself. Many books on substance misuse are nonfiction or even memoires, but some authors also choose the topic for fiction works.

If you’re a parent and your child is struggling with addiction, check out the books below that tackle the topic from many angles.

Nonfiction Books About Addiction

We’ve outlined some books that can give you a groundwork understanding of addiction. This can help clear up some misconceptions you may have about what your child is going through, which is important if you want to help them.

1. Addict in the Family: Support Through Loss, Hope, and Recovery

Addict in the Family: Support Through Loss, Hope, and Recovery is a well-reviewed book that focuses on how to approach a loved one’s addiction.[1] It contains a combination of personal stories and actionable advice on the best ways to help.

It doesn’t try to make false promises, and it also acknowledges that a family member isn’t always the one who can help their loved one recover. While that message isn’t easy for everyone to hear, it’s important if a person wants an accurate, full picture of what addiction can mean.

2. Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic is a nonfiction piece that focuses on how opioids devastated the United States, with a heavy focus on Portsmouth, Ohio, and the way unfettered access to prescription painkillers ravaged the community.[2] It isn’t only focused on Portsmouth, however, as it also discusses similar occurrences throughout the country.

This book can help you understand drug addiction on a more macro level than some of the other works here, focusing on how drugs are sourced and marketed, and how a variety of systems in place on both a legal and illegal level work together to create America’s drug epidemic. 

3. Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss

Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss is a memoir written by Stephanie Wittels Wach about her brother, Harris Wittels, a comedian who worked on Parks and Recreation and several other well-known comedy projects.

Both funny and at times deeply sad, this book isn’t for everyone. It explores both Harris’s life and his tragic death from opioids. The story also explores Stephanie’s grief and how she processed what happened.

For parents who have experienced the loss of a child because of substance abuse, this book may be helpful as part of their healing process.

4. Rewired: A Bold New Approach to Addiction and Recovery

Rewired: A Bold New Approach to Addiction and Recovery is a book aimed at offering practical advice for fighting addiction and avoiding self-damaging patterns of behavior.[4] While definitely a book aimed at helping people dealing with addiction directly, a lot of what it covers can be helpful for parents of people struggling with substance abuse too.

The book offers anecdotes and success stories. It also outlines questions a person can ask about a treatment plan to find what they might be missing from their recovery process.

Fiction Books About Addiction

While nonfiction works on addiction serve a very important role, they can sometimes feel academic and dense. When well-executed, fiction books on addiction can be helpful in that they’re often more approachable. If you want to better understand addiction through fiction writing, try some of the options below.

5. Jesus' Son

Jesus' Son is a book that was described by one critic as “transcendently gritty” and “brutally compassionate.” Written by Denis Johnson, an author who himself struggled with heroin addiction, the book is told through 11 vignettes, all narrated by the same character, with a focus on addiction and recovery.

Like any book, this isn’t for everyone, and it contains some shocking material that may warrant researching yourself before reading it. 

6. The Legend of the Holy Drinker

This book was written by author Joseph Roth, as he was dying from alcoholism. Clearly informed by many of his own experiences, it is about an alcoholic vagabond, following him around with a great deal of empathy, respect, and a willingness to at times be joyous and affirming while also ending with the character’s death.[5]

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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