Books

Addicted to drug addiction memoirs

Tanya Pampalone

The first instalment of our drug edition looks at books that are easy to get hooked on – if you're into misery, redemption and excruciating honesty.

A list of addiction memoirs. (Behrouz Mehri, AFP)

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The New York Times bestseller by Sheff, the journalist father of a crystal methamphetamine addict, unravels his son’s addiction and its effect on him and his family. His son Nic later wrote Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines, while Sheff’s most recent book Clean takes a well-reported look into the latest addiction research and treatment models in the US.

Catastrophe: Oy Vey My Child is Gay (and an Addict) by Anne Lapedus Brest (Jacana)
The title might be cringeworthy but it gets the story across. This is the tale of a nice Jewish mother who discovers her beautiful, King David-educated daughter Angela is not just a lesbian, but also addicted to cat (synthetic amphetamine). Brest details her struggle to come to terms with her guilt while attempting to bring her daughter her back from the abyss.

Dystopia by James Siddall (Jacana)
The subtitle sums it up: “from glittering media career to sordid shebeen gutter – and back again”. Siddall was the twentysomething deputy editor of South African Playboy whose addiction to alcohol and benzodiazepines ultimately left him homeless – resulting in a court-ordered, two-year rehab incarceration and a fight to recover.

I Want My Life Back by Steve Hamilton (Penguin)
Hamilton’s spiral into alcohol and drugs began as a teenager, landing him a criminal record at the age of 15. It took 11 stints in an institution and being pronounced dead three times for Hamilton’s recovery from heroin and alcohol addiction to take place. A founding member of Narcotics Anonymous in South Africa, he is now on the speaker circuit talking about addiction.

Lit by Mary Karr (HarperCollins) Raw honesty paired with disturbing detail and glorious prose sucks you into Karr’s rough-and-tumble world, which is well soaked in vats of alcohol. The daughter of alcoholic parents from Texas, it’s a miracle that Karr made it out alive much less as a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry and a professor of literature at Syracuse University.

Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis (PublicAffairs)
What makes this addiction memoir even more addictive is that Marc Lewis is a neuroscientist who meticulously takes you through his drug use – from cough medicine and LSD to heroin – and then tells you exactly how the drugs he has been experimenting with since he was a teenager affect the brain.

Permanent Midnight by Jerry Stahl (Process)
Stahl was the coolest writer on the block, who happened to be shooting heroin while contributing to Esquire and being gainfully employed on some of the hottest TV series of the time, Thirtysomething and Twin Peaks. Penned before addiction memoirs had their own genre, the book resulted in a movie starring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller.

Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis (Hyperion)
This rollicking ride comes with oodles of ego, mounds of drugs and lots of sex. Fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers should not miss lead singer Anthony Kiedis’s memoir, from his down-and-dirty Hollywood childhood with a dope-dealing father through the scandalous heights of rock stardom, all tinged in alternating states of massive addiction and recovery.

Smacked by Melinda Ferguson (Penguin)
This suburban girl goes really, really bad – losing her home, husband and two children and ending up in Hillbrow’s drug and prostitution underworld – is probably South Africa’s most well-known addiction memoir. Ferguson followed the book up with Hooked, an account of her struggle with ongoing recovery.

The Night of the Gun by David Carr (Simon and Schuster)
The New York Times columnist reports his way through his addiction, beginning with a night in which his friend pulled a gun on him. Or maybe Carr was the one holding the gun? What keeps you hanging on through his alcohol-fuelled cocaine binges and IV drug use is that despite it all, he’s going to end up on the front page.


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