I recently came to terms with my own problematic relationship with alcohol, and my one solace has been in books. I’ve dug into memoir after memoir, tiptoed into the hard science books, and enjoyed the fiction from afar. The following are a smattering of the books about alcoholism I’ve found meaningful.
Trigger warnings: addiction and alcoholism, amid other mental illnesses.
The first book on this list was the one to really set my mind toward easing off the alcohol. Did you know that getting blackout drunk on the regular is not normal? I didn’t. I’d always been drinking toward blackout, assuming that was the same goal everyone had on a night out. I thought the point of drinking was to lose hours of your life to darkness. Reading about someone else’s experiences shocked me, yet I told myself I’m not like them. I don’t need to drink every day. I just don’t want to feel. I know it’s bad—so that means I’m different, right?
In college, my friends and I joked that it’s not alcoholism until you graduate. Then I told myself it was because I was a journalist working the night shift. Then I insisted the daily drinking was just part of adulthood. Then I realized it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be a fun thing, not a necessary thing. That’s where I want to be.
Reading these books about alcoholism and recommending them to you is part of my personal therapy process. Reminder: You are more than your addiction. You can get to the other side. And, while books are a great start, never hesitate to work with a professional therapist who can give you the tools you need to recover.
Now, let’s get to the books.
Memoirs About Alcoholism
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
Sarah Hepola always had a relationship with alcohol. She started sneaking sips from her parents’ wine glasses as a kid, and went through adolescence drinking more and more. By the time she was an adult in a big city, all she did was drink. And the drinking turned into blackouts. Blackout is her poignant story of alcoholism and those many missing hours that disappeared when she had just enough to drink to wipe out her memory. Hepola gets through the darkest parts of her story with self-deprecating humor and a keen eye on what she was burying by drinking.
Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction by Elizabeth Vargas
Elizabeth Vargas, former ABC 20/20 anchor, revealed on air that she’s an alcoholic. And then she got writing. Between Breaths is a raw look at her life with anxiety and alcoholism, two monsters perfectly intertwined in her life from a young age. She writes intimately about how she lived in denial and kept her addiction a secret for so long, and what her time in rehab and first year sober was like.
Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa F. Smith
Lisa Smith lived a lovely life in the city, rocking it as a lawyer at a prestigious law firm. And then alcohol and cocaine barged in. Girl Walks Out of a Bar is Smith’s whole life through the lens of alcoholism: her insecurity as a teen, her anxiety as a young adult, her stress from a heavy workload as an adult. It all leads up to the day she realized puking and shitting blood was not normal and she checked herself into a detox facility. But the recovery process was terrifying: Was she going to lose all her friends, who gathered at bars? What would she do with all the free time no longer spent with booze?
A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown
Cupcake Brown was 11 when she was orphaned and placed into foster care. She grew up with a tragic journey, running away and becoming exposed to alcohol, drugs, and sex at a young age, and leaning on those vices to get by. At 16, she was dealing drugs and hustling. But one nasty bender forced her to turn her life around. A Piece of Cake is her gripping tale of crashing down to the bottom and crawling back to the top.
We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen
When Laura McKowen quit drinking, she kicked and screamed. She thought the normal people who could drink casually were lucky. Soon, she realized that she was the lucky one. She wasn’t self-medicating and was able to truly feel her feelings and live honestly. We Are the Luckiest is a life-changing memoir about recovery—without any sugarcoating.
Nonfiction Books About Alcoholism
Drink: The Intimate Relationship between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston
Ann Dowsett Johnston combines in-depth research and her own story of recovery in this important book about the relationship between women and alcohol. Drink brings to light the increase in DUIs, “drunkorexia” (limiting eating to get drunker), and other health problems among young women in the United States.
Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
Have you noticed that our world is increasingly obsessed with drinking? Work events, brunch, baby showers, book club, hair salons—the list of where to find booze is endless. Holly Whitaker, in her own path to recovery, discovered the insidious ways the alcohol industry targets women and the patriarchal methods of recovery. Ever the feminist, she found that women and other oppressed people don’t need the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous, but a deeper understanding of their own identities. Quit Like a Woman is her informative and relatable guidebook to breaking an addiction to alcohol.
Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson
Survival Math is an incredible look at race and class, gangs and guns, addiction and masculinity. Mitchell S. Jackson frames the narrative around his own experiences and those of his family and community. Weaving together poems, historical documents, and photos, this is an essential book about, among many other things, alcoholism and survival.
Fiction Books About Alcoholism
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert
Dove “Birdie” Randolph is doing her best to be a perfect daughter. She’s focusing on her schoolwork and is on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then she falls for Booker, and her aunt Charlene—who has been in and out of treatment for alcoholism for decades—moves into the apartment above her family’s hair salon. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a beautiful look at the effects of alcoholism on friends and family members in the touching way only Brandy Colbert can master.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
When 15-year-old Cat moves to a new town in rural Michigan, she’s ecstatic to find a friend in Marlena, a beautiful, pill-popping neighbor. She’s drawn to Marlena’s world and joins her on an adventure of drinking, smoking, and kissing. Marlena’s dark habits worsen, though, and she ends up dead within the year. Decades later, Cat reminisces about those days with Marlena and learns to forgive herself and move on from those days. Julie Buntin’s Marlena is a stunning look at alcoholism, addiction, and bad decisions, and how they haunt us forever.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Hurricane Katrina is on its way, and Esch’s family is struggling. Her father, a heavy drinker, is concerned about nothing else. She and her brothers are stocking up on food, but they all have secrets: Esch is pregnant, Skeetah is trying to save his prized fighting pitbull’s latest litter, and Randall and Junior are trying to figure out where they stand. Salvage the Bones is a story of poverty and disaster and missing mothers and drunk fathers, over the course of 12 days, and Jesmyn Ward’s writing is perfect.
For more books about alcoholism and addiction, check out this list of 100 must-read books about addiction.