9 Tough But Necessary Reads About Addiction In America

With the news that the latest GOP healthcare bill would drop addiction treatment if passed — care that millions of Americans utilize and tens of millions of more would benefit from having access to — it’s important to remind ourselves why addiction treatment is essential healthcare in the United States, and what our country would look like without it. Despite repeatedly expressing a desire to end the opioid epidemic in the U.S. — just one of many substance abuse disorders Americans deal with every day — and promising to expand drug treatment for those who need it, Donald Trump’s latest healthcare bill does more to cut costs for top-bracket taxpayers than it does to provide essential care for American citizens; and that’s a problem.

In conjunction with a GOP healthcare bill that plans to cut back on addiction treatment is Attorney General Jeff Session’s recent direction to federal prosecutors to rule more severely against drug defendants than was common under the Obama administration — essentially returning America to the “war on drugs” era, when the response to substance abuse was incarceration rather than rehabilitation. Ineffective, inhumane, and dangerous, to say the least.

Here are nine books that will remind you why addiction treatment is essential healthcare.

‘Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic’ by Sam Quinones

There has been plenty of talk about the U.S. opiate epidemic recently, though there has been far less action. Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones, is a book that will remind you how critical putting action behind our words really is. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, Dreamland takes both a micro and a macro look at drug dependency in the United States, using heartbreaking small-town case studies alongside broader discussions about big pharma and the international drug wars.

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‘Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction’ by David Sheff

A heartbreaking and brutal personal account about one family’s journey through addiction Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction is equal parts father David Sheff’s love song to his methamphetamine-addicted son as it is a call for national change regarding drug use, abuse, and treatment in this country. The memoir describes how Sheff’s family dealt with his son Nic's addiction, from rock bottom to recovery, demonstrating that an addict isn’t the only victim of their drug dependency.

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‘Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget’ by Sarah Hepola

Though filled with some dark humor and moments of redemption, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, is no joke. Blackout is Hepola’s raw, vivid account of alcohol addiction: the nights of intense drinking, the blackouts, the forced apologies for things she couldn’t even remember doing in the first place. Despite the writer's dependency on alcohol, she was able to maintain a steady career and a busy life — reminding readers that addiction doesn’t always announce itself in obvious ways. Hepola’s story of recovery demonstrates why all kinds of support systems are essential for recovering addicts: government-funded and otherwise.

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‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander

While drug addiction may devastate users and families in similar ways, there’s an unavoidable reality to the fact that when it comes to prosecuting drug use, the American criminal justice system doesn’t treat black offenders and white offenders the same. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, takes readers behind the nameless, faceless statistics of the men who live behind the bars of American’s prison system, in part demonstrating how the “War on Drugs” was really designed to target black men and youth for incarceration.

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‘Go Ask Alice’ by Beatrice Sparks

Published under “Anonymous” but attributed to Beatrice Sparks, the 1971 title Go Ask Alice has been a staple of high school required reading (and drug prevention classes) for decades. Although it does simplify a lot of the complexities for how and why users become addicted in the first place (the narrator’s addiction began when she was unknowingly drugged at a party) the descriptions of a drug-fueled life are jarring and unforgettable.

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‘Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines’ by Nic Sheff

The son of the author behind Beautiful Boy (see above) Nic Sheff’s Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, tells the addict’s side of the Sheff family story. A New York Times bestselling memoir, Tweak is Sheff’s account of starting to drink at age 11, quickly descending into crystal meth and heroin addictions. Sheff describes the toll drugs take on both the mind and the body, and what a journey through recovery and relapse, and recovery again, really looks like.

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‘Drinking: A Love Story’ by Caroline Knapp

Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp, is one of the most relatable accounts of alcoholism I’ve read — diving into the not-dissimilar experiences of the five million American women suffering from alcohol addiction each year. Taking readers into her personal journey of starting to drink at a young age (Knapp’s “social armor”) to full-blown alcoholism, Drinking is an honest and revealing account of alcohol use and abuse, and how to live a sober life in the world alcohol once shielded you from.

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‘Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town’ by Nick Reding

Using the example of the small, agricultural town of Oelwein, Iowa, where the author himself spent four years reporting, Nick Reding’s Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town dives headfirst into the American meth epidemic. With great compassion, Methland demonstrates how myriad forces — from economic decline to global methamphetamine production — influence the increasing dependency on meth in the United States. Reding talks to family doctors, addicts, cookers and sellers of meth, and more, whose families, lives, and livelihoods have been destroyed (sometimes over and over again) by the drug.

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‘How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir’ by Cat Marnell

Another memoir that demonstrates addiction doesn’t always look as you might expect, How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir is Cat Marnell’s account of her high fashion and fast-paced life, fueled by prescription drug addiction, promiscuous partying, and bulimia. An associate beauty editor at one of the top magazines in the country, Marnell has a life that seemed completely glamorous. But while there’s definitely candid humor to her writing, this memoir also depicts the harsh reality of addiction — that eventually, the seemingly-flawless career and enviable social life would give way to the addictions themselves, threatening the end of everything Marnell had worked for.

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