A national opioid epidemic. Legal marijuana. Continual attempts to redefine problem drinking.

Is it any wonder that the addiction memoir (made modish in the 1940s and 1950s by Charles Jackson’s thinly veiled roman à clef, “The Lost Weekend,” and “Junky,” by William S. Burroughs; revived in the 1990s and 2000s with “Permanent Midnight,” by Jerry Stahl, “Drinking: A Love Story,” by Caroline Knapp, “Lit,” by Mary Karr, and “Night of the Gun,” by David Carr) is surging yet again?

Here, a selection of the latest tales from the dark side.

“WILL: A MEMOIR” by Will Self (January 2020). Mr. Self is the author of seven other nonfiction works and 12 novels, including “Umbrella,” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012.

Hitting Bottom A drug memoir of his 1980s excess written in the third person. On a trip to Bath, England, with a friend, the narrator brought “ten blotters of acid, a half-ounce of Pakki black, four black bombers, twenty-odd amphetamine blues, a couple of Mogadons” and a bottle of amyl nitrate. “’Course, there’s no way the two of them could’ve got through all of that in a couple of days,” Mr. Self writes. “But then, there was their host and his brother to consider.”

Getting Clean It took a while. While the book ends before his stint in rehab does, the author wrote in an email that he continued to use hard drugs through his 30s.

Making Amends With Mr. Self, that is a highly relative concept. The author added that he agrees with the British critic who found his book less about the Christian worldview of redemption than the Nietzschean one of recurrence, “which proposes as the greatest and most joyful liberty of the individual, the full willingness to embrace the repetition of a life down to its most disgusting details.”

“STRAY,” by Stephanie Danler (May 2020). Ms. Danler is a novelist, essayist and screenwriter whose 2016 New York Times best seller, “Sweetbitter,” was a series on Starz.

Hitting Bottom “Stray” is a literary coming to terms with her parents’ substance abuse, as well as her own periods of heavy drinking, cocaine and sedative use. Her father is a recovering alcoholic, opiate and crystal methedrine addict who left the family when Ms. Danler was 3, Ms. Danler writes in the book. Therefore, she wrote in an email, “hitting bottom in ‘Stray’ is less about wrecking the car or overdosing or degrading sexual encounters, and more admitting that I need to let people go. Hitting bottom is a boundary.”

Getting Clean While the author was able to steer clear of an addictive spiral without rehab, her mother, she said, is a lifelong alcoholic now disabled from a brain aneurysm she suffered in 2005; her father, she said, has been in and out of recovery. “When I let him go, it wasn’t a reaction to one of his disasters,” she writes in the book. “It was finding myself in the right temperature, the right light.”

Making Amends “What I realized is that while I am not an alcoholic, or a crystal meth addict, I have inherited that pain from them,” Ms. Danler said in the email. With her “predilection towards hurting myself, or isolating, or being reckless,” she said that she intended to explore “how we repeat patterns and how we — occasionally — transcend them.”


Ms. Khar, 46, writes an advice column, Ask Erin, for Ravishly, a feminist site.

Hitting Bottom Ms. Khar began dabbling with heroin at 13. She indulged on and off for the next 15 years, at times stealing from her parents and pawning her possessions to help pay for heroin or crack cocaine. “The lower I got, the more I craved getting lower,” she writes. “I wanted to abandon all my senses and remember nothing. I wanted to get so low that I’d forget my name and my body. I no longer wanted to exist.”

Getting Clean At 28, after learning she was pregnant with her son Atticus, through the 12-step approach; with help from Kundalini yoga and Judaism.

Making Amends “There are a variety of addiction memoirs out there,” Ms. Khar wrote in an email. “I think what many of this next generation have in common, which was certainly a guiding theme in ‘Strung Out,’ is that there is a need to embrace the topic of addiction, from public forums to dinner tables. I hid my addiction for so long because people didn’t perceive me as an addict. And I didn’t reach out for help because I was drowning in shame about it.”


Mr. Rieder is a bioethicist, philosopher and author who is the director of the Master of Bioethics degree program, as well as a research scholar, at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

Hitting Bottom After a motorcycle accident in 2015, doctors prescribed escalating doses of oxycodone to medicate the pain from five “limb salvage” surgeries. Two months later, his plastic surgeon advised Mr. Rieder to taper off opioids within four weeks, leading to intense withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, flulike symptoms and extreme restlessness that prevented even short naps. “I never thought to myself the precise plan, ‘I will kill myself,’” he writes in the book, “but I knew it was the logical conclusion of my train of thought. If I couldn’t get better, I couldn’t go on living. No one could. This was hell.”

Getting Clean Rather than a recovery story, Mr. Rieder said that his story of his brain “floating in a vat of opioids for months” is one of heading off addiction before it fully forms. With the support of family “that I desperately wanted to come back from the brink for,” he said in an interview, he never went back on medication, despite the pain of withdrawal, so he “didn’t teach my brain that opioids are the only things worth valuing.”

Making Amends “Doctors still overprescribe opioids out of habit, but they also underprescribe opioids out of fear,” he said. “We must recognize that opioids are not only dangerous, addictive drugs. They’re also powerful medicines, which means we need to figure out how to use them in a responsible, nuanced fashion.”


Ms. McKowen is a former executive in public relations and advertising who has produced podcasts about recovery.

Hitting Bottom “On July 13, 2013, the night of my brother’s wedding, I left my 4-year-old daughter alone in a hotel room overnight because I was blackout drunk,” she writes. That was the night that her life as an upwardly mobile professional who threw lavish dinner parties and jogged six miles during lunch collided with her life “full of secrets and cover-ups, nightly blackouts with wine and Ambien, crushing anxiety and exhaustion.”

Getting Clean Ms. McKowen kicked her substance abuse habit in part by using an approach that she calls the “pregnancy principle,” and attempting to clean out her body — and psyche — of impurities, as she did when she was an expectant mother.

Making Amends “Most addiction memoirs are mostly about the addiction story and very little about what it’s like to get and stay sober,” she said. “‘We Are the Luckiest’ focuses on what happens after we put down the drink.”


Ms. Krans is an artist, writer and yogi who created “The Wild Unknown Tarot,” a popular tarot deck and guidebook.

Hitting Bottom This graphic memoir recounts the artist’s spiral into food addiction after years struggling to conceive a child, during which she has an ectopic pregnancy and goes through a divorce. “I hit bottom in a fancy Manhattan hotel room, with the morning light glimmering on another decimated minibar and a phone notification to check into my flight home to Los Angeles,” Ms. Krans wrote in an email. “I never got on that plane. Instead, I boarded a bus at Port Authority and checked myself into an ashram in the Poconos where I lived for six months while writing ‘Blossoms and Bones.’”

Getting Clean “I literally drew myself back together, one day and one page at a time. Each morning after meditation I would sit with the ‘feeling’ of addiction and allow it to guide my pen across the page,” she said. “What began as incoherent scribbles of fear and doubt soon became a heroine’s journey through the underworld of addiction.”

Making Amends “We’ve lost so many great artists and writers to addictions of one kind or another,” she said. “I recognized where my path was heading and decided to make art about it rather than to be a victim to it.”