In the early days of addiction recovery, people search far and wide for methods to help them stay on the right path. Even if you’ve attended the best addiction treatment programs, received targeted therapies and treatments, and integrated yourself into a recovery community, you may still feel the effects of craving, regret, or doubt.
One simple and effective solution for helping people overcome these feelings is diving into a book. Reading has helped many people overcome addiction, and recovery-based books can help you do the same.
The History of Reading as a Recovery Strategy
Books and novels contain the knowledge and experience of countless great minds – it’s no wonder that so many people who have struggled with addiction and recovery put their experiences onto the page. Through this process, they offered access to insights and experiences that help others conquer addiction and maintain sobriety.
One of the oldest stories of addiction dates back over 3,000 years ago. This story, known as The Gambler’s Lament, appears in one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism: the Rigveda, a collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns.
The Gambler’s Lament tells the story of a man who constantly returns to playing dice, even as consequences continue to pile up around him. Despite facing shame from his wife and family, the gambler cannot control the compulsive urge to risk it all and roll again.
How Reading Supports Recovery
While reading up on addiction and how to recover isn’t a requirement for achieving abstinence, it can be a tremendously beneficial tool for people looking for more information, similar experiences, or a blueprint for life after treatment.
The benefits of reading for recovery are endless. Below, we’ve listed a few examples of how reading and recovery can support each other and how you can start picking up books to guide your recovery process.
Bibliotherapy is a time-tested therapeutic approach that can help people progress in individual or group therapy sessions. In bibliotherapy, clients read specific works chosen by their therapist and share their perspectives in group or private sessions.
Reading certain books can help people find hope, make sense of their symptoms, and increase self-awareness about their mental health struggles.
Readers can incorporate bibliotherapy into several different kinds of books. Depending on your specific challenges or needs, you could use bibliotherapy techniques for:
- Self-help books
- Academic literature
When people share how they related to the book, they can uncover deep-seated truths that they wouldn’t have been able to bring to light without an outside perspective.
So far, we’ve spoken about how reading and recovery can help people overcome their symptoms and relate to other people with addictions. But reading can serve another great purpose in addiction recovery as a positive outlet for restless energy.
In addiction recovery, people need to find activities and hobbies that they enjoy. Replacing unhealthy habits with new healthy outlets can help curb the sensation of craving, serve as a coping mechanism for difficult situations, and encourage people to begin genuinely enjoying their lives in recovery.
Reading a novel, historical account, or memoir can help provide a sense of purpose and become an inherently rewarding activity that makes people feel good about themselves and their sobriety.
Have you ever wondered why you act the way you do, feel the things you feel, or react differently to situations than other people? Chances are, there’s a book that explores the causes, symptoms, and consequences related to your situation.
- Dr. Gabor Maté’s book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, explores the connection between trauma and substance abuse.
- Anna Lembke’s Dopamine Nation helps explain how people become addicted to substances and behaviors from a neurological perspective.
- Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller dives deep into the science of attachment theory and how your childhood upbringing could affect your romantic relationships today.
These books explore complex topics through an objective lens and offer insight that feels approachable, applicable, and digestible. Self-awareness is a core part of recovery, and the journey doesn’t stop when treatment ends.
Where to Start and What to Read
In the 3,000 years since The Gambler’s Lament, countless authors, doctors, spiritual leaders, and everyday people have documented their experiences with addiction. Many have offered solutions that helped them recover, and others have built upon these methods and refined them for modern times.
Here are some of the most popular resources people in recovery turn to for support.
The Big Book
In 1939, a small group of recovering alcoholics in Akron, Ohio, set out to create a primary text for recovery from alcoholism. Titled Alcoholics Anonymous, the book set out a recipe for recovery that would go on to help millions of people heal.
Today, this book is known as The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and is currently one of the best-selling books of all time.
The Big Book set a precedent for the relationship between reading and recovery – AA successfully helped people overcome alcoholism. Still, the organization knew it needed to spread its message to help more people.
The Big Book‘s goal is to introduce the principles of recovery to the world at large and help people outside of Akron recover. You can find a copy wherever you are, either digital or paperback.
Later editions of The Big Book include a section of personal stories from recovered alcoholics. Their experience in Akron AA meetings showed them that fellowship with other alcoholics was tremendously beneficial for helping people remain sober, and they wanted to extend this sense of community to all of their readers. The intent was to create the feeling of attending an AA meeting but in book form.
The Big Book breaks personal stories down into three sections:
- Pioneers of AA, which contains the stories of early Alcoholics Anonymous members
- They Stopped in Time, which tells the stories of people who never reached the late stages of alcoholism but still recognized their drinking had become a problem
- They Lost Nearly All, which has stories of advanced alcoholics who spent years living in the extremes of alcohol addiction before reaching recovery
This collection of personal stories shares the experiences, strengths, and hopes of AA members who struggled with alcoholism but ultimately recovered. People who feel alone in their journey can recognize that others have undergone similar struggles and come out on the other side.
Since the success of Alcoholics Anonymous, countless other 12-step and recovery support groups have developed their own books to help people achieve abstinence. These include:
- Narcotics Anonymous
- SMART Recovery
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Celebrate Recovery
These programs (and several others) incorporated reading and recovery together to make their programs even more effective.
Finding More Support in Recovery
The options above scratch the surface of what you can expect from recovery-focused books; hundreds of books, novels, treatises, and memoirs explore various aspects of the human experience in great detail. Any one of these books can spark great insight into your experiences, behaviors, personality, and needs.
At All Points North, we understand that recovery works better when you have the right resources at the right time. Our addiction treatment programs help people achieve abstinence using various evidence-based methods. We support our alum long into recovery and can help you deepen your recovery capital. Contact our team at 855.235.9792 or complete our online contact form to start a conversation today.
- Monroy-Fraustro, Daniela et al. “Bibliotherapy as a Non-pharmaceutical Intervention to Enhance Mental Health in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review and Bioethical Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in public health vol. 9 629872. 15 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3389/fpubh.2021.629872