Addicted to addiction memoirs

BEAUTIFUL BOY by David Sheff (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The New York Times bestseller by David Sheff, the journalist father of a crystal methamphetamine addict, unravels his son’s addiction, its effect on him and his family. Son Nic later wrote Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines, while Sheff’s latest book, Clean, takes a well-reported look into the latest addiction research and treatment models in the United States.


The title might be cringe-worthy but it gets the point 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 (methcathinone, a synthetic amphetamine). Brest details her own struggle to come to terms with her guilt while trying to bring her daughter 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 for his own recovery.

I WANT MY LIFE BACK by Steve Hamilton (Penguin)

Hamilton’s spiral into alcohol and drugs began as a teenager, landing him with a criminal record at 15. It took 11 institutional stays and being pronounced dead three times for his recovery from a heroin and alcohol addiction to come about. A founding member of Narcotics Anonymous in South Africa, he is now on the speaker circuit about addiction.

LIT by Mary Karr (HarperCollins)

Raw honesty paired with disturbing detail and glorious prose sucks you into Mary 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 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.

THE NIGHT OF THE GUN by David Carr (Simon and Schuster)

The New York Times columnist reports his way through his own addiction beginning with the night his friend held 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 intravenous drug use is that, despite it all, he’s going to end up on the front page.

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 singer Anthony Kiedis’s memoir, from his down-and-dirty Hollywood childhood with a dope-dealing father through to the scandalous heights of rock stardom, all tinged by 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. It is probably South Africa’s most well-known addiction memoir. Ferguson followed up the book with Hooked, an account of her struggle with her ongoing recovery.


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Tanya Pampalone
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