When I quit drinking, I didn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous because I was too ashamed – ashamed of my disease and embarrassed to be tainted with the stigma that is persistently and unfortunately associated with AA. I didn’t go away to a 30 day rehab because I couldn’t wrap my brain around letting go of my family and business responsibilities for a whole month. I took a different path to permanent sobriety.
I read. I read book after book after book about alcoholism and recovery. I read clinical books about how the body processes alcohol and the many diseases and biological dysfunction heavy drinking causes. I read books about neurotransmitters and other detailed explanations of brain function. And I read memoir after memoir written by alcoholics who had visited the same depths of despair where I wallowed, but made it out and had the strength to tell their stories.
I read to learn. I read to fend off cravings to drink when the witching hour descended upon me every evening. I read to gain insight into the unexplainable emotional changes I had experienced. But most of all, I read to feel like I wasn’t alone, and others had survived the same despicable path I trudged. I read the stories of people just like me, and the camaraderie I found in those pages made all the difference.
The books I read are the reason I am almost two years sober today. The books I read are the reason I write my story.
10 Impactful Books About Alcoholism
Are you concerned about your drinking? Is alcohol causing problems in your life? Does the drinking of a loved one worry you? Do you have a friend or family member who needs help, but you are afraid of pushing them away? Is alcohol destroying your marriage? Is your child’s life spinning out of control? Do you feel like you don’t know where to start?
If you answered any of those questions affirmatively, please consider this list of ten books that helped me find my way out of the pit of debilitating alcohol-induced depression. They are not necessarily the top ten books on this topic, but they cover a range of subtopics and come from a variety of angles. There are books on this list with which I resonate so closely I wonder how the author knows the details of my life. There are other books that are interesting even if I do not make as visceral a connection. Maybe those books will connect with you or your concerned drinker. There is something on this list for everyone.
If you are worried about how to give a book about alcoholism without embarrassing the recipient or damaging your relationship, we’ll get to that at the end of this post. Your concern is a real concern – I get it. For now, let’s pick out a book for Christmas, and then we will talk about how to give it in a loving and respectful way.
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
This is the all-time best alcoholism memoir written by the godmother of the genre. I’ve read it easily ten times, and I get chills just thinking about how it changed my life. Caroline is a magnificent writer – the writer I hope to someday grow to be. Her descriptors, scene setting, humility, vulnerability and complete honesty draws me in like I am reading my own story. Even the section about her eating disorder is transfixing, and I didn’t even know how to spell anorexia before I read this book. While it is brutal in its honest reality, it is also tender and chicky. If your concerned drinker is overly masculine, it might not hit the spot (although it’s so good, that I bet, secretly, it will).
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
If Caroline Knapp is the godmother, Sarah Hepola is her godchild. Her writing is edgy and graphic and descriptive and painful, and her story resonates with my soul. The first half of the book is about her drinking, while the second half is about the challenges of her recovery. Right in the middle, there is a tiny section of transition where she describes crawling into her closet with a blanket in the middle of the night – night after night – and curling into a ball with her hopeless, dismal discomfort. Her bottom was my bottom, and I cry just thinking about how those few desperate pages jammed between misery and hope saved my life. Sarah is quite a bit more brash than Caroline (the book opens with Sarah coming out of a blackout, naked on top of a strange man in his unfamiliar hotel room), but the same warning about the chicky-ness of this book applies.
A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill
Toward the end of his career as an accomplished and acclaimed writer, Pete wrote this memoir about how drinking – heavy drinking – was intertwined throughout his life from childhood until he finally quit cold turkey. It is interesting, and very well written by an excellent storyteller. My only beef with this book is that it ends abruptly when he quits drinking. I wanted – no – I needed to hear of a recovery warrior overcoming shame and other challenges in an alcohol soaked world, and this book is unfulfilling in that regard. But if your concerned drinker might benefit from the story of a life of adventure floating on a river of ever-present booze that left the writer with enough damage done to leave the drink behind, this book might be the one.
Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
Like Caroline, Pete and Sarah; Augusten is just a master of his craft. This book is a detailed and entrancing tale about an advertising executive and his fall from grace at the hands of the drink. The greedy and obsessive way he drank in the depths of his addiction is sad and riveting. If your concerned drinker might enjoy getting wrapped-up in exceptional prose, Augusten delivers.
Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z. Scoblic
Sacha tells the story of going to a bar for a drink (as in one drink) and emerging at 7:30am with the sun burning her eyes and barely enough time to stumble into work. On this list, Sacha is the fifth consecutive purely exquisite writer. She was a wild adventurer in college who never matured as long as booze was there to stunt her growth, and that is a quality that is most definitely relatable for me. Like Caroline’s and Sarah’s work, I have read this one many times because Sacha is the female version of me, and I love her for telling our story.
The Sobering Truth: What You Don’t Know Can Kill You by Dr. Jeff Herten
The incident Jeff considers his bottom took place when he disciplined a rambunctious child at an adult party by grabbing the kid’s shoulder to get his attention. He wasn’t drunk, but beer was definitely in control of the situation and Jeff’s life. When Jeff was confronted by the child’s mom in the morning, he was devastated and decided enough was enough. This book is a well-written blend of clinical information of how alcohol poisons the various systems of our body, and Jeff’s personal experiences both as a drinker and a medical doctor who treated alcohol-abusing patients. It provides valuable, factual information with a personal, vulnerable twist. This is an excellent, well rounded book for the concerned drinker who needs facts to back-up emotional feelings.
Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic by Sarah Allen Benton
Much like Dr. Jeff’s book, Sarah’s contribution to the genre twists her personal struggles with alcohol addiction into a clinical description of the stages of high-functioning alcoholism. While Sarah bravely shares many very personal details for the benefit of her readers on a topic to which she has dedicated her life, much of the explanation is medical and somewhat dry. If your concerned drinker values clinical knowledge over the touchy-feely stuff, this is an outstanding first read on a complicated and emotional subject.
Living Sober Sucks (but living drunk sucks more) by Mark A. Tuschel
This was the first book I ever read about alcoholism, and it deserves a place on this list even though I struggle to resonate with Mark’s tale of outwardly-obnoxious drug and alcohol abuse. This is a manly man’s tale of getting wasted while mowing the lawn and doing projects around the house, wrecking his boat into his dock and having an affair in Las Vegas. Mark turned from proud and brazen drunk to weeping, suicidal shell-of-his-former-self in an early recovery that included a divorce from his wife who considered him weak for giving up the booze. If your concerned drinker makes no attempt to hide his party 24/7 lifestyle, this is the book for you. Mark’s open and unapologetic tale will hit home for drinkers who wear public drunkenness as a badge of honor.
Drunk on Sport by Tim Cowlishaw
Tim is a sports writer in Texas who argues his opinion regularly on ESPN. In his pseudo-celebrity tell-all, Tim explains how drinking opened doors in his journalistic career and made conversations, and thus sports scoops, available that would not have been had he been unwilling to belly-up to the bar with coaches, players and team owners. This was the second book I read about alcoholism, and it was a bit confusing. While Tim admits that sobriety saved his uncontrollable life, he also tells us he could not have reached the pinnacle of his writing career without his willingness to drink. Although this book was far less helpful to me than other books on this list when my goal was survival of early sobriety, I include it on this list for one reason. If your concerned drinker is a sports nut, he or she will know and likely respect Tim Cowlishaw. When we are trying to help troubled drinkers, we have to meet them where they live. If they live on ESPN, buy them this book.
This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
This is the single most impactful book for my permanent sobriety. And while I endorse it, I have one huge problem with it. Annie sells it as a book that will teach the drinker to take back control of our drinking and choose to take alcohol or leave it. It sells like the other books on moderation management that I now know to be utter bullshit. But that is a sales pitch so Annie can sell more books, and nothing more. This book doesn’t teach us to moderate, it teaches us to despise alcohol. While I respect Annie’s right to make money from her work, and bend the truth to sell it to alcoholics who believe their cure can include social drinking, I hate the bait and switch. Enough lecturing. This book saved my life.
When I finished reading Annie’s book, I was convinced on a conscious level, and – very, very importantly – on a subconscious level, that alcohol is a poison with no redeeming qualities. Social, moderate drinkers just don’t consume as much poison, and thus, their damage is less noticeable. I believe there is an amount of Drano or antifreeze you can drink without dying immediately. Thanks to Annie’s book, I think of alcohol as diluted antifreeze.
This book gave me lots of detail on brain chemistry at precisely the time in my recovery when I needed it. Timing is everything. I believe a closed-minded drinker who longs to be in control of his drinking might not understand this book. But a struggling drinker who is searching desperately for the reasons for his predicament might find everything he needs in Annie’s writing.
My Early Sobriety Cocktail
If you think your concerned drinker might be interested in starting a library, within this list can be found a three-pack of books that I most credit with curing me of my addiction. Before I reveal the ingredients of my mixology, please consider reading through my blog to see if your concerned drinker might resonate with my story. My point is, what worked for me will work for literally millions of troubled drinkers…if their story bears resemblance to mine. For a high-functioning alcoholic who is holding his life, his career and his family together by his fingernails and knows he needs help but doesn’t know where to turn, this trifecta might bring him salvation.
If I was choosing resources on day one of my sobriety, I would read Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout, and This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. I owe my life to desperation, timing, prayer and these three books.
I’ve Chosen the Book. How do I give it?
A troubled drinker is in a terrible mental hell. We lie to protect the secret of the volume of our consumption and the damage alcohol is wreaking in our lives. A few of us will welcome the concern and offers to intervene from people we love. Most of us will recoil from intervention. It is a very delicate subject. However, please, please, please don’t give up on us. We need you even if we don’t yet know it.
You have to give this gift with two things burned indelibly into your mind, come what may.
First, humans will only change when subjected to enough pain. Love, ultimatums, threats and promises are inadequate weapons against the almighty drink. The drinker simply must endure enough pain to convince himself to change. Until we reach that breaking point, it doesn’t matter what you think. Period.
Second, give the gift with love. Do everything you can to ensure that your concerned drinker knows you love him, and you want him to have this book as a resource should he ever choose to read it. Don’t accuse or blame. Just love and give. It might not be enough. You might feel the cold backlash of resentment, but remember why you carefully chose this gift to begin with. You did it out of love for the troubled drinker. You didn’t do it to save him or protect his family. You did it because you love him. Period.
Alcoholics Anonymous and inpatient rehab are life-saving resources for many troubled drinkers. But the solution to the alcoholism epidemic is not one-size-fits-all, and bibliotherapy is a real and effective option for millions of us.
Is this the solution for the concerned drinker in your life? No one knows for sure, and the path to recovery can be the most challenging journey of a person’s life. You could face venom and rejection just for dropping a few breadcrumbs leading to the path of salvation. Giving this gift could be painful for you. Just remember, this isn’t about you. It isn’t about your pain.
It is about refusing to stand idly by and watch your family self-destruct. It’s about taking subtle and careful action to help save a friend’s life.
It is about loving someone enough to try.
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