Top 8 Books by Experts in Addiction Science

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs


Nov 03, 2023

A close-up of several shelves filled with books.

Scientists, mental health professionals, and humans everywhere have been trying to understand exactly what addiction is and why it happens for decades. Theories have come and gone, but leading experts still disagree on both the broad strokes and finer points regarding addiction.

What we know for sure is that substances can have a measurable impact on the brain, which can be altered depending on the frequency and amount of substance use (1).

If you want to better understand the science of addiction — because you’re experiencing it firsthand or you’re curious about how the brain works — these eight books are a great place to start.

Heads up: These books were written based on population-level research and personal experience. Their takes on addiction and what works for treating it are just that: their takes. What’s most important is finding what works for you, both in understanding and treating addiction. You know your brain and body best.

1. "Diseasing of America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to Convince Us We Are Out of Control"

by Dr. Stanton Peele

We’re kicking off this list with a fairly controversial title. This (admittedly old) book from psychologist and addiction expert Dr. Stanton Peele debates the “disease model” of addiction (2). This model, which remains the mainstream view on alcohol addiction, suggests that addiction is genetic, is permanent, will lead to relapse, and requires medical treatment. According to Dr. Peele, industry interests keep this model going strong.

In this book and other communications, Dr. Peele argues that addiction is impermanent and simply the approach we use to cope with the problems in our lives — and that self-awareness, new coping skills, and a new environment are the best kinds of treatment (3). 

Buy the book here.

2. “High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society"

by Dr. Carl Hart

This book from neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart, Columbia University's first tenured Black professor in the sciences,  blends memoir with expert education and scientific research on race, poverty, the anti-drug movement, and what drugs actually do to the brain.

Dr. Hart first became a neuroscientist because he thought addressing drug addiction was the key to ending poverty and crime in his community (4). Through his work, however, he came to see the disease model of addiction as a theory that wasn’t backed by the data. Since then, his groundbreaking career has involved publishing cutting-edge research, advocating against the pathologization of drug use, and taking a harm-reduction approach to drug policy.

Buy the book here.

3. “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence"

by Michael Pollan

Author and journalist Michael Pollan immersed himself in the world of psychedelics to understand their potential health benefits, including as a treatment for addiction. How can a mind-altering substance help treat addiction? This book provides answers through the science and the history of psychedelics. 

Because of this exploration, Pollan has radically changed his understanding of addiction and embraced more of a harm-reduction approach to drug use (5).

Buy the book here.

4. “Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs"

by Dr. Marc Lewis

Dr. Marc Lewis, another neuroscientist, uses this book to explain addiction and the impact of drugs on the brain in plain language. Like many of the other offerings on this list, Dr. Lewis’ book also recounts his personal story of managing his own addiction before becoming a neuroscientist and using his experience in his work.

Like Dr. Peele and Dr. Hart, Dr. Lewis also rejects the disease model of addiction, which becomes much more relevant in his second book. As he explained in an interview, his view is that addiction is “a developmental phenomenon… It takes place in a sequence or a progression through repeated trials, through repeated exposure, repeated actions, and through practice” (6).

Buy the book here.

5. “Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction"

by Dr. Judith Grisel

This book from renowned behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Judith Grisel pulls from years of research and personal experience to culminate in a straightforward explainer on the neuroscience of addiction and the differences in quitting one substance versus another.

Rather than following the disease model or a more behavioral model of addiction, Dr. Grisel sees a middle ground and interconnectedness between biology and behavior. Addiction, she believes, is too complex to neatly fit into one category or another, a perspective that is most similar to the biopsychosocial model of addiction (7).

Buy the book here.

6. “The Science of Addiction: From Neurobiology to Treatment"

by Dr. Carlton K. Erickson

Researcher and addiction expert Dr. Carlton K. Erickson, who is also the Director of the Addiction Science and Research Education Center at the University of Texas at Austin, goes deep into neurobiological research to provide his take on the neuroscience and biology of addiction — as well as emerging theories and treatment options. Dr. Erickson also applies an expert pharmacological lens to understanding the unique ways in which the brain and central nervous system respond to different types of substances.

While this book is considered by some to be the ultimate “brain science 101,” Dr. Erickson does not have personal experience with addiction (unlike some of the other experts on this list).

Buy the book here.

7. “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction"

by Maia Szalavitz

This memoir meets scientific depository from neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitz offers a fresh perspective on addiction: She believes it’s a learning disorder. The book opens up a radically new way of approaching illness and recovery without talk of “broken brains” or “addictive personalities.”

Rather than following a disease or other existing model of addiction, Szalavitz uses this book to explain what other experts and research have demonstrated about the similarities between addiction and learning disorders.

Buy the book here.

8. “Understanding Addiction: Know Science, No Stigma"

by Dr. Charles Smith and Dr. Jason Hunt

Unlike some of the other books on this list, this title from two medical doctors does rely on the disease model of addiction. In it, Dr. Smith and Dr. Hunt tackle substance use disorder, the science of addiction, and their take on the many paths to quitting alcohol or other substance use.

These medical doctors and addiction experts also have personal experience with addiction. In this book, they also acknowledge the deep stigma associated with addiction and advocate for ending it.

Buy the book here.

How do I get help for addiction?

If you believe you’re dealing with substance use disorder and think you’d benefit from medical treatment, take our online assessment. One of our licensed clinicians will evaluate you to determine whether or not medication may be right for you. Learn more about Oar’s approach here.

About The Author

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs is a reproductive health writer, editor, educator, and MPH student.

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