Stack of books on a green background. 10 books about trauma and addiction

10 Books About Trauma and Addiction

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Trauma and addiction are such vast topics that there are several thousand books available about each topic. In recent years, however, with the work of trauma specialists like Dr. Gabor Mate and Bessel van der Kolk, we are starting to see how trauma underpins so much of our experiences with substance use disorder. It only makes logical sense, then, that many of the books related to recovery also have a solid grounding in trauma and trauma recovery

Please note that while the links below are to Amazon, many of these books may be available at your local library or bookstore.

Here is a curated list of our top ten books about trauma and addiction:

1. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2015) by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

In this book, Dr. van der Kolk takes an in-depth look at trauma, its impact on the brain and body, our maladaptive coping mechanisms—like substance use—and how to recover. 

2. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (2010) by Dr. Gabor Mate and Peter A. Levine

Having worked for decades as a medical doctor directly with people with acute substance use disorder, Dr. Mate takes a humanistic approach to the treatment of addiction. He passionately communicates through a humanistic lens that we are not people who make poor choices, but that addiction is a result of complex trauma and the interplay between our histories, emotional and neurological development, brain chemistry, and the impact of drugs. Dr. Mate promotes compassion and humanness in our approach to trauma healing rather than criminal justice and contemporary medical health. 

3. Trauma and the 12 Steps (2020) by Dr. Jamie Marich

Trauma expert Dr. Jamie Marich helps to build the very necessary bridge between this spiritual program of the 12-steps and bring it into the realities of what we know about treating substance use disorders in the 21st century. She also attempts to provide a toolkit to address the inequities that separate 12-step programs from people who experience addiction, such as agnostics, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA folks. Her goal is to foster healing, transformation, and growth through making clinicians, therapists, and sponsors aware of the role trauma plays in the condition they are seeking to treat with the 12 steps.

4. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal (2016) by Donna Jackson Nakasawa

This book takes a real-life look at the groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and how trauma impacts how we develop, grow, and function as children and adults. A truly fascinating book that helped me connect many of the dots about my childhood, behavior, and so many decades of feeling uncomfortable in my body and seeking escape. 

5. The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love (2021) by Sonya Renee Raylor

This book takes a deep dive into the role oppression and violent systems play in perpetuating body shame and injury. Activist Sonya Renee Taylor offers a radical approach to reconnect with our minds and bodies as well as our enduring strength having weathered the years of bodily trauma inflicted through racism, ableism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, and fatphobia. She argues that radical self-love not only dismantles shame and self-loathing but has the power to dismantle systems of injustice. A must-read for anyone in recovery from addiction, as so many of us struggle to be present in our bodies.

6. Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma (2019) by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

This book is a fascinating read. Dr. Burke Harris describes her search for understanding of the role trauma plays in the underdevelopment of children. In this book, she makes the connection between toxic stress (trauma) and life-long illness, including addiction. She also provides an insight into the ACE study and presents interventions to provide hope for healing.

7. A Little Life (2016) by Hanya Yanagihara

As a novel, A Little Life is a little unusual on this list. While this book might look like any other fiction paperback, it’s actually a stunning portrayal of the families we are born into. Weaved into the story of a tight-knit group of friends, are the struggles many of us face: addiction and the devastating effects of childhood trauma.

8. There There (2019) by Tommy Orange

The second novel I’m mentioning, There There was the winner of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year. This novel follows the lives of characters from Native communities as they navigate sobriety, trauma, and a devastating history.

9. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (Emergent Strategy) (2019) by adrienne maree brown

While this book might not initially appear to be about trauma and addiction, it does touch on some very important topics we encounter in the journey of recovery: awakening within ourselves, the politics of pleasure, and expansive ways we can feel good in the body, mind, and spirit.

10. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (2017) by Resmaa Menakem

This book was written by a licensed social worker who works as a therapist with decades of experience in trauma and violence prevention. It examines the damage caused by racism in America through a lens of trauma and body-centered psychotherapy. Menakem has studied with experts of trauma, including Dr. Bessel ven der Kolk and Peter Levine.

Books can open our minds, provide incredible insights, and make us feel less alone. I hope you find some of these benefits from the books on this list!

Trauma and addiction are so interconnected. Here are ten books that provide excellent insight and support.

Olivia Pennelle is a writer, journalist, and recovery activist. Her work has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

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