Addiction Memoirs from Rock Stars, Parents, & Hollywood Celebrities | The Reader's Shelf

In addition to numerous reference works and self-help books, there are many memoirs and novels dealing with the pervasive and nondiscriminatory disease of addiction. Here are but a few.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, millions of Americans aged 18 or older suffer from a substance abuse disorder. In addition to numerous reference works and self-help books, there are many memoirs and novels dealing with this pervasive and nondiscriminatory disease. Here are just a few.
In The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star (VH1 Bks. 2017. ISBN 9781501187544), Nikki Sixx, Mötley Crüe’s bassist, shares the diary entries he kept from 1986 to 1987. They unabashedly detail his addictions to heroin, cocaine, and alcohol, but also, that underneath his brash and wild rock star exterior, Sixx was suffering from the effects of parental abandonment and a family history of substance abuse. After overdosing and being brought back to life twice, he eventually sought professional help. He is now an active and passionate advocate for educating the public about opioid addiction. This work has been adapted as a graphic novel, and a Broadway musical is reportedly in the works. Read-alike: The Basketball Diaries is NYC poet and musician Jim Carroll’s teenaged diary detailing his heroin and other drug use and subsequent addiction. The memoir was made into a film in 1995.
When his son, Nic, became addicted to crystal meth, David Sheff blamed himself and wondered where he went wrong as a parent. Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction (Mariner. 2009. ISBN 9780547203881) is the story of what he and his family went through as Nic struggled with his addictive disorder, including employing the difficult “tough love” approach, desperately hoping that one of the rehab visits would work, and enduring the crushing disappointment each time Nic relapsed. This book reminds readers that even when we can’t fix things there is always hope. The movie version of Beautiful Boy was released in 2018. Read-alike: There are two sides to every story, and in Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, Nic Sheff shares his addiction journey, recovery attempts, and the effects they had on his father and family.
In Drinking: A Love Story (Dial. 1997. ISBN 9780385315548), Caroline Knapp explains how she began drinking as a young teenager to help deal with the stress and emotional problems she faced while growing up. The escape and numbness that alcohol brought turned her into a functioning alcoholic for 20 years. She drank through her years at an Ivy League college and as she built a career as an award-winning writer and editor. She hit rock bottom in her 30s and was finally ready to confront her disease. As many other addiction survivors will attest, the author notes that maintaining sobriety is a daily struggle. Read-alike: My Fair Junkie is the memoir of Amy Dresner, a writer and former stand-up comic from a well-to-do family. The book details a tough yet fragile survivor, revealing shocking and poignant details of her addiction and bumpy road to recovery.
Substance abuse also makes many appearances in fiction. Set in New York City and Hollywood’s showbiz scene from the 1940s to 60s, Jacqueline Susann’s legendary novel, Valley of the Dolls (Grove. 2016. ISBN 9780802125347), follows Anne Welles and her friends as they chase their dreams and struggle to deal with fame, relationships, money, and aging. The women become addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates (“dolls”) and alcohol to try to cope with heartache, stress, and anxiety. This soapy and often melodramatic novel was adapted into the cult classic 1967 film starring Patty Duke and Sharon Tate. Read-alike: In Anna David’s Party Girl, Amelia Stone, a celebrity journalist and professional partier addicted to cocaine gets sober after losing her job. However, when another publication hires her to pen a column that would, for authenticity, essentially require her to resume the use of drugs, Amelia has to make some big decisions about her life and future. This novel deftly injects humor into a serious subject: avoiding a relapse after working hard to achieve sobriety.
Originally published in 1953, beat generation author William S. Burroughs’s semiautobiographical novel, Junky (Grove. 2012. ISBN 9780802120427), takes readers on a wild ride of drug dealing and heroin addiction. To say the author’s writing style is straightforward is an understatement; Burroughs’s voice is unapologetically unfiltered, blunt, and definitely not for everyone. Read-alike: Skid row poet/novelist Charles Bukowski wrote about his struggles with alcoholism in several semiautobiographical novels. In Post Office, his 1971 fiction debut, his alter ego Henry Chinaski works as a mail carrier by day in the 1960s and drinks himself into oblivion when he isn’t working. When he quits his job, he takes up gambling to try to make ends meet. Bukowski’s staccato writing style is unflinchingly honest, pointed, and no nonsense, much like Burroughs.

This column was contributed by Samantha Gust, Head of Acquisitions, Niagara University, NY. Gust has been an LJ book reviewer since 2000.

Neal Wyatt is LJ’s readers’ advisory columnist,  contributing The Reader’s Shelf, Book Pulse, and Wyatt’s World columns. She is the coauthor of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 3d ed. (ALA Editions, 2019). Contact her at

This article was originally published in Library Journal's April 2020 issue 

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing