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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate

Based on Gabor Maté’s two decades of experience as a medical doctor and his groundbreaking work with the severely addicted on Vancouver’s skid row, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts radically reenvisions this much misunderstood field by taking a holistic approach. Dr. Maté presents addiction not as a discrete phenomenon confined to an unfortunate or weak-willed few, but as a continuum that runs throughout (and perhaps underpins) our society; not a medical “condition” distinct from the lives it affects, rather the result of a complex interplay among personal history, emotional, and neurological development, brain chemistry, and the drugs (and behaviors) of addiction. Simplifying a wide array of brain and addiction research findings from around the globe, the book avoids glib self-help remedies, instead promoting a thorough and compassionate self-understanding as the first key to healing and wellness. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts argues persuasively against contemporary health, social, and criminal justice policies toward addiction and those impacted by it. The mix of personal stories—including the author’s candid discussion of his own “high-status” addictive tendencies—and science with positive solutions makes the book equally useful for lay readers and professionals.

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

Alcoholics Anonymous is arguably the most influential recovery program for people struggling with addictions.  Although the 12 step approach to treatments is now controversial among some mental health practitioners, you can still expect many clients to have some knowledge of AA and many court systems to still embrace the approach.  Considering that, it may be helpful to read through The Big Book and 12 Steps & 12 Traditions (see below) no matter your theoretical orientation so that you have a better understanding of where your clients are coming from.





12 steps and 12 traditions

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions by Alcoholics Anonymous 

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions walks the reader through the steps taught at AA meetings around the globe. Therapists leading substance abuse groups would often use this approach as the basis of their programs.  Also, clients in individual therapy who are working through problems with addiction will often reference these steps or their progress in this model.





Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

In 1929, in the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, a company built a swimming pool the size of a football field; named Dreamland, it became the vital center of the community. Now, addiction has devastated Portsmouth, as it has hundreds of small rural towns and suburbs across America–addiction like no other the country has ever faced. How that happened is the riveting story of Dreamland.





addiction books

Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction by Maia Szalavitz

Challenging both the idea of the addict’s “broken brain” and the notion of a simple “addictive personality,” Unbroken Brain offers a radical and groundbreaking new perspective, arguing that addictions are learning disorders and shows how seeing the condition this way can untangle our current debates over treatment, prevention and policy. Like autistic traits, addictive behaviors fall on a spectrum — and they can be a normal response to an extreme situation. By illustrating what addiction is, and is not, the book illustrates how timing, history, family, peers, culture and chemicals come together to create both illness and recovery- and why there is no “addictive personality” or single treatment that works for all.



If you know of another book that belongs on this list let us know here or tell us about it in the comments. Make sure you’re also following The Therapist’s Bookshelf on Facebook and Instagram.


Many therapists enjoy recommending books to their clients to supplement the work they are doing together. We also use books to help ourselves grow as people and practitioners. Remember though that books are never a replacement for real human connection or for therapy when it’s needed. If you find yourself needing a therapist, a great place to start is Psychology Today. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.


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