Teen Fiction Tackles Substance Abuse Issues

Books have long provided the way for parents to explain or bring up a difficult situation.

There’s actually wide choice of tween, teen and YA fiction available about drug abuse and addiction out there, with new releases, perennial bestsellers and one book that parents – and grandparents – devoured in the ‘70s.

But, while many schools have required reading lists on the topic, other districts may have banned the same titles.  How do you find books about addiction that are age appropriate and truthful, but still a good read?

Check the best-seller lists and publishing and literary blogs.


Goodreads lists 56 novels on drug and substance abuse aimed at young adults, ranked by actual reader reviews using a five-star rating system.  Click through the title for a synopsis and an author bio, and then check the reader comments.

While they do not specify age ranges for each book, the comments give fair warning – and occasional plot spoilers - about any sensitive or explicit topics you will find.


In her blog at BookRiot, Katie McBride, a freelance writer who frequently covers addiction and recovery issues, lists ‘100 Must-Read Books About Addiction.’

It includes Hollywood memoirs, little-known authors, fiction and non-fiction, and many books that both teens and parents can share.  Each entry is accompanied by a blurb describing the book, often annotated by McBride with a note on why it made the list.

You’ll discover Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian which tells younger teens the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and the various addictions of the adults in his life, as well as investigative works such as Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones, outlining the establishment of the heroin trade route through the Midwest.


Search Amazon – or other online booksellers - to discover the most popular books by sales.

You’ll find new authors writing from different cultural backgrounds and rediscover bestsellers that became movies, including Ellen Hopkins’ Crank and Jim Carroll’s memoir Basketball Diaries.

You’ll also find the one book that most parents – and young grandparents – have read that’s always in print and still on many ‘recommended’ lists, Go Ask Alice.

Published in 1971 as the ‘diary’ of an anonymous 15-year-old who was slipped LSD at a party, the book follows her journey through heroin addiction, homelessness and jail, prostitution, and ultimately, sobriety.  (Spoiler note – it’s a ‘posthumous’ publication.)  Now considered fiction for its wild plot, the book was both widely recommended as a study aid in anti-drug programs AND banned by schools districts who thought it promoted drug use.

While today’s teens will be surprised by the author’s attitudes on sexuality and the ‘70’s world before cell phones and laptops, it can still be a conversation starter between the different generations on drugs, self-value and how most emotions and feelings are still the same.

Your Public Library

Finally, a great way to discover free books on any topic, ask your librarian!

They have the training and resources to make suggestions based on your child’s age, interests and reading level to recommend good choices.

Not close to a library or no time during the day?  Most large systems have free online ‘Ask the Librarian’ services that can help you and your reader find just what you’re looking for.



Lora Lewis is a content creator with Beasley Media Group and is based out of Philadelphia.