Although the details of our addiction and recovery stories may be different, the core of our experience is often the same. Identifying with others who have been through the hell of addiction and made it to the other side can provide a cathartic sense of relief, providing both hope and the opportunity to feel seen.
There are lots of places to seek out others’ stories: In group meetings, through therapy, or in online communities. Sometimes, though, you just want to curl up with a good book. That’s why recovery memoirs are an excellent way to understand someone else’s experience and how it can apply to your own.
Admittedly, there are a lot of lists out there about the best recovery memoirs, but ours is a little different. We were inspired by the diverse experiences of our own community members. Since we care about all kinds of recovery, we wanted to emphasize that drugs and alcohol are not the only ways that women suffer and not everyone recovers through a 12-Step program. And while memoirs centered around alcohol addiction are prevalent on this list, there are plenty of others to choose from, too.
But wherever that journey starts, these memoirs prove that struggle can lead to something beautiful in the end.
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If you’ve ever looked around the room and wondered why there is alcohol everywhere, then this is the book for you. From drinks at baby showers to work events, brunch and book clubs, graduations, and funerals, alcohol’s ubiquity is a given and the only time that people get uncomfortable is when someone doesn’t drink.
In this powerful book, the founder of Tempest, Holly Whitaker, embarks on a personal journey into her own sobriety and along the way discovers the insidious role that alcohol plays in our society.
Using her relatable voice, which is equal parts honest and witty, Holly tackles the ways that alcohol companies target women. She also divulges the details on her emerging feminism, an alternate way out of her own addiction, and a calling to create a sober community with resources for anyone who is questioning their own relationship with alcohol.
2. I’m Black and I’m Sober: The Timeless Journey of a Woman’s Journey Back to Sanity by Chaney Allen
Chaney Allen’s book was the first recovery memoir that was published by a Black woman author. Her story tells the story of a minister’s daughter who grew up poor in Alabama, eventually moving to Cincinnati and falling into substance use disorder, all while raising children. It tells the story of her addiction and eventual recovery in San Diego, California.
After getting sober, Allen devoted her life to recovery, and her memoir explores the life she lived through to get to where she is today.
3. Nothing Good Can Come from This: Essays by Kristi Coulter
There are countless memoirs about addiction and recovery, but not quite so many about stopping drinking and its aftermath. When author Kristi Coulter stopped drinking, she began to notice the way that women around her were always tanked, and how alcohol affected those around her.
In this essay collection, Coulter writes with wit about a life in transition—and what happens when you suddenly look up and realize that maybe everyone else isn’t quite doing things the right way. This memoir is a frank, feminist look at life after recovery.
4. Unashamed by Lecrae
Rapper Lecrae’s memoir is a frank story of overcoming many obstacles, including childhood abuse, abortion, addiction, and suicidality as a two-time Grammy award rapper.
He also addresses his experience of feeling out of place in the music industry as a rapper who also practices a Christian faith, feeling excluded at red carpet events due to discussing his faith in his lyrics.
5. How to Grow Up: A Memoir by Michelle Tea
Hoping to make her dreams a reality, Michelle Tea recounts her awkward attempts to gain literary fame as she smokes, drinks, and snorts her way through San Francisco. She begins to slowly grow into a healthy, reasonable, self-aware, and stable adult. Her passionate writing shines as she tells of her often difficult relationship with money, her relationships, and more.
This is a darkly comic book about the slow road through recovery, really growing up, and being someone that gets back up after screwing up.
6. Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction by Elizabeth Vargas
Anyone who has ever suffered from panic and anxiety might understand the allure of alcohol to help cope. That siren song eventually led broadcast journalist Elizabeth Vargas to admit her addiction on national television.
In this memoir, Vargas recounts the childhood that led to her anxiety and panic and how alcohol gave her a release from her painful reality. Predictably though, addiction eventually became part of her painful reality. Writing honestly about her secret dependency and time in rehab, Vargas helps those of us who deal with co-occurring disorders understand taking on both mental health and alcoholism—and how we cannot heal one without addressing the other.
You will never be able to forget this powerful story about, well, trying to remember your life and what happened while Carr was addicted to crack and alcohol. Eventually, he goes on to become a regular columnist for The New York Times. But this tale is all about the three years of reporting that it took Carr to figure out his past.
His investigation into his own history is an epic story through addiction, recovery, cancer, and life as a single parent that you won't be able to put down.
8. The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
Have you ever read a book that perfectly blended memoir with cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage? That’s what you will get with Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering. The book re-examines the stories that we tell about addiction from the perspective of Jamison’s own struggles, and also includes her ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses such as David Foster Wallace and Billie Holiday.
The Recovering takes a deep dive into the history of the recovery movement while also examining how race and class impact our understanding of who is a criminal and who is simply ill. She ultimately identifies how we all crave love and how that loneliness can shape who we are, addicted and not.
9. I’m Just Happy to Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering by Janelle Hanchett
Often, we hear the stories of people with addiction finding redemption once they have children—but this is not that kind of story, which is precisely why we love it. It’s about a woman who longs to belong and find comfort in her new life with her husband and baby but instead develops a gripping addiction to wine.
Janelle Hanchett chronicles the story of embracing motherhood through the devastating separation from her children at the height of addiction. Her quest for sobriety includes rehabs and therapy—necessary steps to begin a journey into realizing and accepting an imperfect self within an imperfect life. For any mother or person who has felt like an outsider in your own life, you might just relate.
10. Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
You've probably already heard the name Augusten Burroughs or at least his first memoir (and later film), Running with Scissors. But in this memoir, Burroughs recounts his very regular and ordinary life of working in advertising and enjoying a drunken Manhattan life—until his employers force him to attend rehab.
There, Burroughs is finally able to truly examine himself, and something starts to click. This memoir is the story of his drinking, finding recovery, and getting sober while also finding love, loss, and Starbucks as a Higher Power.
11. A Piece of Cake: A Memoir by Cupcake Brown
Before she turned twenty, Cupcake Brown survived more than most of us will in a lifetime: The death of a parent, childhood abuse, rape, drug and alcohol addiction, miscarriage, hustling, gangbanging, near-death injuries, drug dealing, prostitution, and homelessness.
Eventually, she runs through a series of nine-to-five jobs, but ultimately, she ends up living behind a dumpster as she descends into crack cocaine use. In this gripping memoir, she turns it all around with the help of a family of eccentric fellow substance users, friends, and strangers who come to her aid. This gripping tale is about the resilience of spirit combined with the worst of modern urban life. Cupcake survives thanks to a furious wit and an unyielding determination. You’ll want to read her inspiring (and oftentimes frightening) tale.
12. Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
Sarah Hepola’s evenings were always about drinking. Alcohol, after all, tasted to her like freedom itself. Her beloved habit of over-drinking and staying until bars closed, however, meant that her nights and the following mornings were also all about her regular blackouts.
For the longest time, she thought alcohol brought adventure into her life, but eventually, she had to face the hard reality: whatever lies she wanted to tell herself the truth was that drinking was more likely draining her life and breaking her spirit. This is the story of a woman who embarks on her bravest adventure yet and discovers sometimes you have to give up your beloved destructive habits to finally find yourself.
13. Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell Jackson
This vulnerable, sobering book is a deep look into gangs and guns, near-death experiences, sex work, masculinity, composite fathers, the concept of "hustle," and the destructure power of addiction. It is all told through the eyes of Jackson, his family, and his community.
This book is beautiful, compelling, and a riveting retelling of Jackson's life as well as those of his male relatives who have gone through similar journeys.
14. Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston
As it turns out, there’s an epidemic no one is talking about: risky drinking amongst girls and women is on the rise, and things such as DUIs and “drunkorexia” are more common than ever.
In this book, celebrated journalist Anne Dowsett Johnston intuitively intertwines her own life story of alcohol use disorder with some great in-depth research and relevant interviews. Her book includes the perspective of those leading the charge in this field, shedding some much-needed light on this crisis and the factors that have contributed to it.
15. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Growing up in the public eye is never an easy thing, but Fisher didn’t just grow up in the spotlight. She was a crucial part of the cultural phenomenon, Star Wars. To make things even more interesting, Fisher grew up with the world watching while she battled manic depression, addiction, and visited all sorts of mental institutions as a result.
In this adaptation from her stage show, Carrie Fisher uses her trademark sarcasm and humor to tell you all about growing up in Hollywood and living as Princess Leia...at least as well as she can remember after having been through electroshock therapy.
16. Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas
Koren Zailckas is not an alcoholic. She’s just someone who uses alcohol to muster up the courage, and, well, survive life. This is just how it has always been since her introduction to Southern Comfort when she was fourteen.
This book is a tale of how, after many years of excessive drinking and spiraling into a self-destruction cycle, Zailckas realizes that it doesn’t matter whether or not she identifies as an “alcoholic.” What she’s doing isn’t working, and it’s time to make a different choice.
17. Girl Walks Out of a Bar: A Memoir by Lisa F. Smith
Lisa Smith is the epitome of control… except when she is not. Beneath her perfect life and incredible success hides a girl who thought she had cheated her way out of her anxiety and stress via alcohol, only to find that she has surrendered to the powers of this magical liquid. She is the perfect example of a high-functioning alcoholic whose life looks perfect on the outside, even as it crumbles on the inside.
In this dark but incredibly comedic memoir, Smith tells all about her story and the road she finally took to recover from her perpetual numbing.
18. Beautiful Things: A Memoir by Hunter Biden
You may have heard about Hunter Biden before (after all, he is the son of the 46th President of the United States of America) and maybe even know that he published a memoir about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.
In this memoir, he talks about the car accident that killed his mother and baby sister when he was just two years old. Then about how he lost his beloved big brother to brain cancer... and all of the hardships that led to his years-long battle with addiction. Here, he retells his journey from substance use disorder to a torturous path to sobriety.
19. Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
For Caroline Knapp—as it is for many—alcohol was the protective friend that helped her get through life. Her protector became her lover and this is the memoir of their twenty-year-long destructive relationship.
This book is Knapp’s journey through self-discovery. It’s a beautifully told story about how alcohol seduced her at fourteen and secretly subjugated her through her university years and most of her award-winning career.
If you’ve wondered what it would be like to live your life sober, this book is for you. More than just a memoir, this book explores the psychology and neuroscience behind the societal traps that lead us to drink and how drinking affects our brains and our bodies.
Catherine Gray was trapped in a seemingly hopeless cycle, but she found the escape route, and shares the wonders that await you on the other side if you’re considering joining her.
21. The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking and Started Living by Clare Pooley
After quitting her career in order to dedicate more of her time to her family, Clare Pooley found herself depressed and feeling sluggish. All that kept her company was her daily drinking habit. She often wondered if she was an alcoholic but was afraid of the answer.
In this book, she narrates the year in which she went from a cancer diagnosis to her happiest and best self. Her journey covers sobriety, beating cancer, and building a richer life than she’d ever imagined.
22. We Are The Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen
There’s a new kind of thinking in the recovery world, and all of that is thanks to McKowen’s memoir. Although there might not be anything “lucky” about addiction, in this moving memoir, the author details how, in the midst of early sobriety, she realized that she was actually the lucky one because she no longer had to rely on a dangerous substance to anesthetize her pain and anxiety.
In this book, McKowen talks about her personal story along with how she faced the facts, the question of AA, and dealing with other people’s drinking. Although she doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult sobriety can be (and yes, it’s not without its struggles), she continues to write about the many blessings of living an honest life without the debilitating shame of addiction.
23. Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowita Bydlowska
Jowita Bydlowska could not have expected things to go this way. She had already beat alcohol in the past, but there was nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of her child with some champagne, right? Wrong. That celebration threw her once again into the depths of alcoholism.
This is a raw memoir that makes you feel like you’re there with the writer, through all her shame, all her hiding, and all the guilt that comes from being a mother who drinks. Her struggle is beautifully portrayed, and you also get to emerge with her on the other side as she regains her sobriety once more.
24. Lush: A Memoir by Kerry Cohen Hoffmann
That bottle of merlot was all Kerry Cohen could think about as she worked through her day. She always completed whatever was on the to-do list but always with this reward on top of her mind. It took her until she was forty to realize this was neither normal nor healthy. She was a self-identified functional alcoholic.
The worst part? When she looked around she couldn’t help but notice that she wasn’t alone. In a relatable style, Lush explores the ongoing addiction crisis amongst middle-aged females.
Baker is a former NBA all-star whose career was derailed by his substance use disorder. In his story, he convinces himself that he is a better player under the influence, but eventually lost everything to his SUD.
This riches-to-rags tale tells Baker’s story of how he came to manage a Starbucks and become a youth minister, and his gratitude for his ordinary life.
26. Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z. Scoblic
With incredible wit and skill, Sacha Scoblic manages to tell you both what alcohol used to mean for her and how her sober life is going now. She relied on alcohol, and now that this is no longer an option she has to re-evaluate everything in her life, which leads to some witty observations on her newfound life.
This is a different memoir because it focuses not on the road to sobriety, but on what happens with your life now that you’ve done the thing that once seemed impossible.
27. A Happier Hour by Rebecca Weller
Rebecca Weller was in a weird state of denial. She is a health coach, after all, so she knows better than anyone that she had to quit her increasingly dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. The problem was that she was also terrified of what this would mean. At 39, would she become a bore and be completely unable to socialize?
She decides to try anyway and becomes the subject of her very own three-month sobriety experiment. Ultimately, this journey of self-discovery shows her that a little (even if hard) change is sometimes necessary to get what you truly want in life.
28. Ballad of a Sober Man: An ER Doctor's Journey of Recovery by J.D. Remy
There are certain jobs that are simply more difficult; being an Emergency Room physician is certainly one of them. This may be why so many ER doctors get burned out or deal with addiction issues. For Dr. Remy, his job meant waking up one morning to find himself in rehab for alcohol use disorder.
This is a raw and realistic journey of one man's difficult journey through recovery as he interacts with an eclectic cast of characters, finds romance after losing his marriage during his active drinking days, and battles a global pandemic.
29. Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr
This is the book for you if you’re looking for masterful prose and an important message. More than just a tale of addiction to recovery, this is Karr’s tory about the necessity of faith and love along the journey.
Mary Karr is known for her wit and charming style, and in these pages, she discusses pretty much all her life struggles, not only those with alcohol. This memoir is poetic and a treat for lovers of beautiful writing.
30. After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey through Darkness to a New Beginning by Helaina Hovitz
As a child, Helaina Hovitz witnessed the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Being so close to this leaves her with a serious case of PTSD throws her into despair and later lands her in the throes of addiction.
More than a journey through addiction and recovery though, this is a tale about how trauma shapes us and how we can only free ourselves by facing it. It’s a testament to how one moment, completely out of our control, can drastically change our lives.
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It takes guts to admit that you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol (or anything else). It takes even more guts to seek the help you need to recover. These authors have shown incredible bravery and resilience as they share their most painful experiences and deepest vulnerabilities in public.
Whether you want to better understand the mindset of addiction or find inspiration in how they got out of it, these memoirs are nothing short of inspiring.
- The Ultimate List of Resources to Help You Explore Your Relationship with Alcohol
- 6 Alternative Coping Mechanisms for When You're Not Drinking
- How I Replaced Drinking with Reading
About the Author: Irina Gonzalez is the Content Marketing Manager at Tempest. She is also a freelance writer covering parenting, recovery, and Latinx culture and host of the Pandemic Mama podcast. Her work has appeared in over 50 publications, including The Washington Post, O! The Oprah Magazine, Parents, and more. She is a new resident of Denver, where she lives with her husband, spunky toddler, and their fur babies. Follow her on Instagram at @msirinagonzalez.