It was the day after an emotional This Is Us episode: Justin Hartley’s character had painfully descended into a Vicodin addiction and viewers feared the worst. He stole a prescription pad and wrote himself a fatal dose of fentanyl, the addictive and sometimes deadly opiate drug. As a fan of the show, I was heartbroken, but as a young woman with an affinity for stories like Hartley’s character’s, I knew there was a bigger message here and that he absolutely was not alone.
Over the last few years, I’ve developed a keen interest in addiction memoirs. Sure, my Facebook feed has since filled with ads about “getting help,” but there’s something about these stories that captivate me unlike any other genre. Memoirs are raw regardless of the topic, but when an author is writing about their addiction, they’re forced to face the demons that they’ve masked behind a bottle of booze, or whatever the vice, and it is absolutely felt by the reader. POPSUGAR Executive Editor Nancy Einhart and I realized we’re both avid readers of these stories after said This Is Us episode. We both enjoy swapping book recommendations with our moms and have compiled a list of emotional addiction memoirs that have stuck with us.
Ahead, check out 17 gut-wrenching memoirs about each author’s unique experience with addiction; books we’ve read, books our moms have read, and books that have been recommended to us. Each with different stories to tell but all with a story that will shake you to your core. Whether you’re struggling with addiction and are looking for stories to inspire sobriety, or you simply value reading about the topic, these memoirs will make you laugh, cry, and evoke emotions that only works of nonfiction can bring about.
1) Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith
Lisa Smith was the quintessential functioning alcoholic . . . until she was not. Girl Walks Out of a Bar is Smith’s honest and raw perspective about her hauntingly contrasting life: by day, she’s a successful corporate lawyer, and by night, dependent on copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine. Although she was able to hide her addiction at work, the round-the-clock binges couldn’t hide the self-hatred and downward spiral Smith was on. It’s not your typical addiction memoir, but her story is a cunning take on alcoholism in the world of corporate law. When you get to the part about her recovery, you’ll find yourself cheering her on as if she were your best friend. A true success story you won’t be able to put down. — Perri Konecky
2) The Night of the Gun by David Carr
Longtime New York Times writer David Carr, who died in 2015, takes a journalistic approach to his own addiction story in The Night of the Gun, piecing together what really happened during his hazily remembered years of crack addiction. His memoir doesn’t shy away from upsetting details: handing the mother of his children a crack pipe as her water broke and relapsing years later when he convinced himself he could handle having one drink. This incredibly well-written and well-reported memoir is like nothing I’ve ever read. — Nancy Einhart
3) How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
How to Murder Your Life is essentially a Wiki guide on exactly what the title suggests. Former beauty editor Cat Marnell recounts vivid memories like elevator rides with Anna Wintour and detailed hallucinations of rats in the Condé Nast fashion closet. She had a magazine career many could only dream of, but her side hustle of doctor-shopping around Manhattan’s finest psychiatrists came with a price. Marnell’s dark turn from prescription medication dependency to abusing exuberant amounts of heroin, cocaine, and all the pills she could find took a toll on her life that not even the chicest under-eye concealer could hide. It’s dark, it’s self-destructive, and it’s compelling in a way that only someone who has come to terms with their journey could write. — PK