I often get asked the question – “Do you know of any good books on addiction?”
The answer to that question really does depend on what it is you want to learn about, or why you find addictions and addictive behaviours interesting. What is it that you want to understand? You need to start by asking yourself, what is my area of interest?
- Personal recovery from addiction(s)
- Supporting others with addiction(s)
- The ‘science’ of addiction(s) and/or recovery from addiction
- General interest and/or self-development
- The self-satisfaction of addiction pornography
Many will see the latter (#5) as strange however; very similar to the rubberneckers passing by the scene of horrific road collisions, there are people who get a ‘fix’ from watching the misery being experienced by other people… I won’t be feeding into that particular psychological trait. Surprising as it may be, there are people who find strange comfort in the familiarity of misery (see here).
Amy Winehouse increasingly became defined by her addiction. Our media is more interested in tragedy than talent, so the ink began to defect from praising her gift to chronicling her downfall. (Russell Brand)
Schadenfreude aside, and irrespective of any initial sanctimonious pleasure you may derive from feeling better about yourself (because someone is suffering more than you); once you have lived or witnessed the pain, troubles, failures and humiliation of someone trying to kick addiction(s), your concepts and thoughts will change. Or should do, along with any morbid interests you might have had in the past.
Much of what has been written about addictions over the decades, but in particular the process of treatment and recovery support have, until relatively recently, mostly came from the USA. Irrespective of any scientific or clinical content, a great deal of the information found roots in the American Temperance movement, later American prohibition, the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, and much later the War On Drugs. Something that arguably, has gone on to create many of today’s negative impacts and perverse outcomes from national drugs policies.
This evolving structure of cultural and professional belief has, in many ways, also created a [negative] framework for some of our most common misconceptions. Thoughts and expectations that exist around addictions ‘treatment’ expectations and procedures, across the world.
Before proceeding any further it’s worth noting; there was almost no control of drugs use in the UK until around 1916, along with few social or public health concerns. Then came the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 which subsequently, and partly due to political pressure from the USA, lead the UK to introduce legislation that was supposedly designed to control the use, supply and distribution of many narcotics.
This eventually gave us the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, along with many subsequent additions and amendments, before more latterly moving on to the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. And the legislation and punitive measures continue ad infinitum (see the chronology of UK Drugs Legislation), despite many science based arguments to the contrary.
Critics of the legal control of narcotics have also long argued that; legislation has not been formulated around any associated individual or societal harms caused by use of those particular substances. If they had, it is unscientific to omit substances like tobacco and alcohol.
Evidence suggests that our consistent punitive response, to what is predominantly a public health issue and not criminal, has created many [apparently] unforeseen perverse outcomes. When those tasked with enforcing such legislation tell you that everything is wrong (see here), perhaps we really need to be asking…. why is there any need for more laws around drugs?
Treatment & Recovery
All the factors mentioned above have caused some of the major difficulties we now experience in the UK. The prominent issues relate to political discourse around enforcement and morality issues but additionally; they tend to distort people’s inherent beliefs around their own capabilities. That ability to see and believe, that it is possible to realise long-term sustainable recovery from addictions.
This is especially problematic when people in the UK have learned all they know about addictions from American statistics and literature. Or, have avidly consumed the content of every [American] recovery support book. And assumed the content to be factual and relevant to them in entirety.
The ‘facts’ may well be correct but they are American facts and importantly; it’s important to consume them with the clear understanding, they are indicative of American problems and presented in a way that supports the culture and ethos of American treatment models and thinking. Something that is usually fairly different to that of the UK.
One little known fact, often disguised or conveniently forgotten by many ‘treatment professionals’ around the world but predominantly in the USA is; “around 75% of those who recover [from alcohol addiction] do so without any sort of treatment” intervention (see here).
Yes, we’re talking about alcohol here however; there are similar statistics available for other substances. But that’s not something the ‘industry’ would really want you to understand, is it?
When thinking about drugs addiction, treatment and recovery, people in the UK usually fail to understand the impacts of capitalism in the American Recovery Business, and unfortunately, this industry also attracts many snake oil salesmen, delivering ‘therapy’ in a commercial setting is an extremely lucrative business sector in the USA.
OK, I know I’m being a little cynical here but, there is a significant amount of cash to be made from the growing problems of other people’s misery – around $35 billion US in 2015, according to Forbes. The burgeoning epidemic of prescription opioid addiction currently sweeping America is a prime example. The increasing number of ‘addicts’ (see latest statistics) means there are many more clients waiting to purchase their ‘cure’ …ka-ching!
The Surprising Truth About Addiction: More people quit addictions than maintain them, and they do so on their own. That’s not to say it happens overnight. People succeed when they recognise that the addiction interferes with something they value—and when they develop the confidence that they can change. (Psychology Today)
Before we go any further, it’s actually worth holding on to the thought concept (outlined above) that; irrespective of being considered trite by some, you are (mostly) in control of your own journey. To my mind, and that of many more people… your recovery is your choice!
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against America, far from it. I’m actually employed by UK SMART Recovery, an international organisation that has its roots in America (see here). What I do object to is Snake-Oil Salesmen peddling their wares to vulnerable people looking for help.
I’m also cynical about and struggle with the concept of addictions and recovery as an industry, unlike the predominantly free UK healthcare which is available at the moment. This commercial entity, similar to Big-Pharma, has significant lobbying power over the cultural and political drivers of the addiction recovery process. There are many different political and financial considerations underpinning treatment models in our two countries.
The UK is Not the USA
I don’t have any inclination to get into the constant debate about the causes of addiction (again). I’ve done this before, on more than one occasion (see example). Suffice it to say and in extremely simplistic terms; there are some polar differences of professional opinion held by treatment practitioners on the opposing sides of the Atlantic.
These ‘differences’ tend to filter down to the individuals who are seeking support for their addictions. Creating unhelpful expectations, along with additional and unnecessary psychological conflicts, ones that are often counter productive when trying to address your already problematic issues.
The USA: There is a prominent and underlying American treatment ethic (vehemently supported by many) which generally suggests; addiction is a chronic disease, and one that can only be cured by the 12-Steps process. This spiritual program of recovery was originally developed by Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous back in the 1930s and subsequently published in his Big Blue Book. Until relatively recently, clinical support in the form of medications and/or psychotherapy was mostly shunned by many practitioners. There also appears to be a somewhat binary approach to the American addiction recovery treatment model.
The UK: The prominent belief amongst most UK practitioners suggests; treatment (along with recovery) should (in part) consider the science and logic of individual life-choices and, recovery is something that can (usually) be achieved (by most people), with appropriate psycho-social support. However; this may also require clinical interventions, such as replacement or substitute medications during that recovery process.
I remain convinced that, despite many similarities in the issues leading up to people being impacted by addictions, there are fundamental social and cultural differences between our two countries. By failing to account for differing clinical methodologies and treatment models, we are creating additional negative impacts for treatment processes and individual recovery.
“I’m sick, I can’t help the way I am, it’s my illness. It’s your duty to give me something to make me better!”
I’m sure some will see that as flippant and that’s as may be however; what it does do is illustrate how people often think, at least initially – and often to the detriment of their own beliefs about their capability. They undermine their own desire (and ability) to succeed in their recovery.
Books About Addiction
In the the rest of this blog post I’ve itemised some relevant book suggestions. There are titles which sit under each of the above numbered areas of interest (topics 1 to 4). I will not be including topic five.
I’ve selected at least one book under each heading and it’s my intention to include additional titles and / or updates in the future.
None of these are personally endorsed by me as being the ‘best’ books, simply included because I have either read them or, have good knowledge about their content. I have not received any incentive to promote or endorse any title shown here.
I’ll start with two popular books by Beth Burgess, a psychotherapist, recovery coach and award-winning author and consultant… Beth is someone who can actually walk her talk!
I almost became an alcoholic on purpose. That sounds quite strange, but when I started drinking all day, every day, I knew exactly what I was doing and had no intentions of stopping. I started drinking alcoholically because I had an anxiety disorder. (Beth Burgess)
People spend years trapped in addiction unnecessarily, despite all their efforts, they often don’t understand what they should be doing on their journey to recovery. Some say that The Recovery Formula helped them.
The Happy Addict is listed in the Top 50 Best Drug Addiction Books of All Time from the BookAuthority which identifies and rates books on public mentions, recommendations, ratings and sentiment. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s great, simply that lot’s of people have commented on it’s content and/or found it useful.
Interwoven within Clare Pooley’s own very personal and frank story, The Sober Diaries is a collection of research and advice. It offers answers to questions like: How do I know if I’m drinking too much? How will I cope at parties? What do I say to friends and family? How do I cope with cravings? Will I lose weight? What if my partner still drinks? And many more of the conundrums forming part of this lived-experience.
Catherine Gray is another person speaking from the perspective of lived-experiences; “stuck in a hellish whirligig of Drink” and making horrible decisions, getting hungover and then starting all over again. She had her fair share of ‘drunk tank’ jail cells and topless-in-a-hot-tub misadventures.
Catherine’s book, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, was a Sunday Times top 10 bestseller within a fortnight of being published.
Known to many for all manner of things, good and bad, Russell Brand has been one of our famous ‘celebrity addicts’ in the UK. In his book – Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions (a Sunday Times No #1 Bestseller) Russell suggests his ‘qualification’ for writing the book is not that he is better than anyone else, rather that he has been there done that and got the tee shirt.
In short, Russell says; he is worse than many… An addict, addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, money, love and fame.
SMART Recovery Family & Friends (F&F) is a Programme for people who are affected by the addictive behaviour of someone close to them. Rather than focusing on that Loved One, the F&F programme invites participants to spend time concentrating on themselves and their goals, this also includes looking at some of their habitual responses to their Loved One, exploring whether these are helpful or not.
SMART F&F explores ways that participants can look after themselves better, even in difficult and stressful circumstances, and establish healthier relationships with their Loved One.
Get Your Loved One Sober describes this multi-faceted program that uses supportive, non-confrontational methods to engage substance abusers into treatment. Called Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT).
The program uses scientifically validated behavioural principles to reduce the loved one’s substance use and to encourage him or her to seek treatment.
When first published, Beyond Addiction defined a new, empowered role for friends and family supporting loved ones with addictions. Described as “a paradigm shift for the field”, this approach was not only less daunting for both the substance user and his or her family, but also more effective as well.
This book helps relatives to understand how to use the trans-formative power of relationships for positive change, guided by exercises and examples.
From the wayward youths he tried to emulate growing up in Essex, through the first ex-junkie sage, and the people he turns to today to help him be a better father.
It explores how we all – consciously and unconsciously – choose guides, mentors and heroes throughout our lives and examines the new perspectives they can bring.
This book, unlike others you may have read, uses none of the jargon usually associated with psychology or psychiatry, and according to reviews “may well prove to be the best book on psychotherapy for laymen” that had been written at the time of publication.
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. In this award-winning modern classic, Dr Gabor Maté takes a holistic and compassionate approach to addictions, whether to alcohol, drugs, sex, money or anything self-destructive. He presents it not as a discrete phenomenon confined to a weak-willed few, but as a continuum that runs through (and even underpins) our society; not as a medical ‘condition’, but rather the result of a complex interplay of personal history, emotional development and brain chemistry.
The Handbook of Individual Therapy (6th Edition): Prof Windy Dryden, the author, is one of the leading practitioners and trainers in the UK in the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) tradition of psychotherapy.
Dryden has worked in the field of counselling and psychotherapy since 1975 and was one of the first people in Britain to be trained in CBT. He is also Emeritus Professor of Psycho-therapeutic Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.
And now for some background views and information…
Addictions General Interest
Chasing the Scream: The Search for the Truth About Addiction. What if everything we’ve been told about addiction is wrong? In this book, Johann Hari provides a “perfect antidote to the war on drugs” in one of the most “under-discussed moral injustices of our time.”
He combines research and deeply human story-telling that according to Sir Elton Johm 2will blow your mind and blow you away.” Russell Brand said it was “Intoxicatingly thrilling” and suggested it could “change the drug debate forever.”
The book, which also formed the basis of Hari’s popular but controversial TED talk (see below) has been challenged by some (see here) in the field of addictions and recovery as; “condescending” and “unhelpful” for “recovering addicts” who are the “experts” about addictions.
Excellent – Hari affirms the role he has already established for himself: a crucial voice in, as well as commentator on, the urgent cause of not merely “reforming” the way society deals with the drugs crisis but tearing it up completely” (The Observer)
The book tells a “jaw-droppingly horrific, hilarious and incredible” story that everyone should know. It “exposes one of the greatest and most harmful scandals of the past hundred years” said Stephen Fry.
Hari went on to write about Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression (and the Unexpected Solutions). This book expanded on his original assertions that – the opposite to addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addictions is connections – but again, his thoughts have been challenged, despite being refereed to as… “One of the most important texts of recent years” in the British Journal of General Practice.
The War on Drugs for Harm Minimisation (allegedly)
Good Cop, Bad War: Neil Woods spent fourteen years (1993-2007) infiltrating drug gangs as an undercover policeman, befriending and gaining the trust of some of the most violent, unpredictable criminals in Britain. But Neil was never your stereotypical gung-ho, tough-guy copper.
This is the story of how a thoughtful, idealistic character learned to use his empathetic nature to master some of the roughest, most dangerous work in law enforcement.
Drug Wars – The terrifying inside story of Britain’s drug trade: Our law enforcement officers have been fighting the arguably failed War on Drugs on British streets for decades, bringing destruction, corruption and violence in their wake. Yet it is a story that remains fundamentally untold. Until now. In this groundbreaking book, former undercover police officer Neil Woods, who risked his life infiltrating some of the UK’s most vicious gangs, pieces together the complex and terrifying reality of the drug war in Britain.
Drugs – without the hot air: Minimising the harms of legal and illegal drugs. Prof David Nutt is a past chairman of the UK Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
In 2009 he published an editorial in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, which compared the harms caused by horse-riding with the effects of taking ecstasy. This clearly didn’t sit well with the politics of the day as he was sacked by the then Home Secretary.
In his book Prof Nutt simply put the case for an evidence-based scientific approach to drugs. In straightforward languages for the lay person, he explained what drugs are, how they affect the body and the mind, and why people take them and get addicted to them.
Hardly controversial but hey? That’s politics for you I suppose!
I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have perilled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom. ― Edgar Allan Poe
Business Interests & Disclaimers: please note, this is my personal blog and all posts published here are my own thoughts and opinions. They should not be attributed to my employer UK SMART Recovery.
NB: I do not have any financial connection with any of the authors or publishers of any publications listed on this page. I have not been paid or given any incentive to promote any of the book titles. Each book is listed here because; a) I have read it myself and value it’s content as a worthy addition or b), somebody I know, with good levels of understanding about addictions, and/or has extensive lived experience, has previously recommended the book to me.