Random (but not really)

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Mental Health Representation in Books: Addiction and Eating Disorders



There are several different kinds of stories that deal with addiction.

One is watching a main character spiral until they hit bottom and work to achieve their sobriety.

“I’m not an alcoholic.”

“If I asked you right now to go one solid week without a single alcoholic drink, would you be able to?”

The idea of facing his mother without that barrier, of trying to sleep without the pillow of numbness, made James’s insides squirrelly. He didn’t know because he’d never tried. He’d never had a reason to try.

A.M. Arthur, Getting It Right

I think some of the books that do this best are the ones where you follow a character over the course of a series, so you have time to see the dawning of awareness that they have a problem, as well as the struggle and work to gain and keep their sobriety.


He couldn’t lie anymore about using alcohol as a way to cope with his anger and pain. Maybe he wasn’t addicted, but his behaviour was just as self-destructive. Time would tell if stepping outside of his life in Cardiff for a few months would actually change anything for him.

Dahlia Donovan, The Lion Tamer (Sin Bin)

The thing about the Sin Bin series is that although only the final two stories are about Scottie, you watch him slowly get worse in the preceding books, which makes his recovery in the final book satisfying.


A second kind of story is where a character struggles with their sobriety over the course of the story.

Medlock gave him an appraising glance. “It’s like that, is it?” And then he took the bottle and the glass and poured the contents of both out the window.

“What the hell are you doing?” He could ill afford another bottle.

“If you wanted to drink it, you would have done so hours ago. I think you wanted not to drink it, so I helped.”

Cat Sebastian, The Ruin of a Rake


Beyond the importance of routine, it was vital to stay healthy in times of stress. Swift had badly abused his body for most of his life. His current state of health required consciousness and commitment.

Josh Lanyon, Come Unto These Yellow Sands


This was what I did. Things got bad, I didn’t want anyone to see me weak and broken, so I decided I’d wait until I was just a tiny bit stronger, and then I’d call. But in the space between shame and a public face lay the ocean of demons just waiting for the drop of blood that would set it churning. And I nicked myself with pride every time.

Roan Parrish, Riven

I feel like these struggle are incredibly important—they remind us that sobriety is work. Sometimes you fail, but that as long as you’re alive, you can try again and again.


Lifes Too ShortA third type of story is where a main character doesn’t struggle with their sobriety, yet their past still affects their actions as well as how they see themselves.

He hated telling people about his drinking problem, hated the way it changed how they looked at him, how it colored every interaction from that point onward.

Annabeth Albert, Arctic Sun


“Laudanum.” He allowed the word to settle into the conversation, waited for her face to slowly change to a mask of confusion. “I don’t refuse it because it makes me muzzy-headed, because it gives me vivid dreams, or even because I dislike the taste. I refuse it because I developed an addiction to it when I was young. It was so severe that when I was at Eton, I took a dose that nearly killed me. I stopped breathing.”

She inhaled and tried to pull her hand away. Christian held on tightly.

“When I was… imbibing, I would set my day by my doses. It took over everything I was, everything I wanted. There is no safe dose, not for me.”

Courtney Milan, Once Upon a Marquess

If an author is going to do this, I want to see the work. Representation is good, but I want it to be more than lip service. Just a mention with no further discussion of the struggle feels like a disservice to those who are currently struggling and want to gain / maintain sobriety.


Just as important is where the main character has to deal with a family member who is an addict—either sober or actively using.

Dad had not had a good day. He’d woken up from a nap to a war movie playing on TV that had triggered some memories and anxiety he’d tried to walk off. Walks helped when he wanted a drink,

R Cooper, Jericho Candelario’s Gay Debut


I knew what was coming, like following a script written specifically for us. And yet every time I hoped this time would be different. This time he would really mean what he said. This time he would give up his brandy. So when he failed and I stumbled upon him defiantly swigging from a flask or passed out in his chair, an empty bottle at his feet, it was doubly painful.

Anna Lee Huber, Secrets in the Mist


“It’s a disease. It’s not my fault. I can’t help it!”

“It is your fault! The disease didn’t decide to drink. The disease didn’t go find your purse. The disease didn’t walk out the door and down the street to Lucky’s. The disease didn’t walk to the back row where the vodka is and pick the bottle up off the shelf—”

“I didn’t go to Lucky’s. You never understand.”

“— and walk up to the register and pay for it. The disease didn’t open the bottle, Mom. The disease didn’t drink it, either. You did. It is your fault. It’s always your fault.”

Heidi Cullinan & Marie Sexton, Family Man


One of the things I appreciate about the last two quotes is that they allow the characters to be angry. And that anger is complicated.

Why do I want to read about the struggles of other people? It’s multi-fold, really. It is nice to read about problems that are not my own, and because it reminds me that others might not be going through what I am, but they may be going through their own struggles—ones I don’t see.



National Helpline: 800-622-4357


Substance Use Resource Center (Blue Cross Blue Shield)

Mental Health and Substance Abuse (USA.gov)

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Resources (WVU)



Eating Disorders

The Noblemans Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks


In some ways, eating disorders are similar to addiction. Except you cannot avoid the substance you have a troubled relationship with.

“Okay, so Maxine. Coke and booze. Plus she had issues with food. She ditched the coke and the booze, right? Went to meetings, did the whole bit. Took her a while, but she did it. After she’d been clean for about five years, you know what she told me? She said that she didn’t talk about it much at meetings because people didn’t take it serious, but the hardest thing for her to get under control— harder than coke and booze? Her eating disorder.”

“What? Why?”

He nodded. “You can draw a clean line with coke and booze. Say never again, and stay away from them, period. Food? You gotta eat that shit three times a day every day for the rest of your life, and you gotta make choices about it every time.

Riven, Roan Parrish



(800) 931-2237

National Institute of Mental Health – Eating Disorders (NIMH)

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

Eating Disorder Resources (WVU)



Books with Characters Dealing with Addiction

The Secret, Book, & Scone Society
 Characters seek help:

The Lion Tamer (2018) Dahlia Donovan (Sin Bin series) main character [alcohol] (Contemporary Romance)

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (2017) Mackenzi Lee, main character [alcohol] (Historical Fantasy)

Open for Business (2016) Angel Martinez (Brandywine Investigations) main character [alcohol] (Contemporary Fantasy)

Black and Blue (1997) Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus) main character [alcohol] (Contemporary Mystery)

Characters are sober, but sometimes struggle:

The Secret, Book, & Scone Society (2017) Ellery Adams (The Secret, Book, & Scone Society) main character [alcohol] (Contemporary Mystery)

Arctic Sun (2019) Annabeth Albert (Frozen Hearts) main character [alcohol] (Contemporary Romance)

The Duchess Deal (2017) Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke) main character [laudanum] (Historical Romance)

Clean (2012) Alex Hughes, main character (Contemporary Fantasy)

Come Unto These Yellow Sands (2011) Josh Lanyon, main character [drugs] (Contemporary Mystery)

Once Upon a Marquess (2015) Courtney Milan (Worth Saga) main character [laudanum] (Historical Romance)

Jericho Candelarios Gay DebutRiven (2018) Roan Parrish (Riven) main character [drugs] (Contemporary Romance)

Raze (2019) Roan Parrish (Riven) main character [drugs] (Contemporary Romance)

The Ruin of a Rake (2017) Cat Sebastian (The Turner Series) main character [alcohol] (Historical Romance)

Two Rogues Make a Right (2020) Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks) main character [laudanum] (Historical Romance)

Secondary characters with an addiction:

Baked Fresh (2015) Annabeth Albert (Portland Heat) secondary character (Contemporary Romance)

Jericho Candelario’s Gay Debut (2018) R Cooper, parental [alcohol] (Contemporary Romance)

Family Man (2017) Heidi Cullinan & Marie Sexton, parent [alcohol] (Contemporary Romance)

Secrets in the Mist (2016) Anna Lee Huber, parent [alcohol] (Historical Mystery)

Jar City  (2000) Arnaldur Indridason translated by Bernard Scudder (Inspector Erlendur) adult child [drugs] (Contemporary Mystery)

Life’s Too Short (2021) Abby Jimenez, sibling [drugs] (Contemporary Romance)

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (2018) Mackenzi Lee, sibling [alcohol] (Historical Fantasy)



Books with Characters Dealing with an Eating Disorder


Getting it Right (2015) A.M. Arthur (Restoration) supporting character (Romance)

Boyfriend Material (2020) Alexis Hall (London Calling) main character (Romance)

Husband Material (2022) Alexis Hall (London Calling) main character (Romance)

Three Stupid Weddings (2018) Ann Gallagher, main character (Romance)

Arctic Sun (2019) Annabeth Albert (Frozen Hearts) main character (Romance)

Haven Investigations series by Lissa Kasey, main character (Contemporary Mystery): Model Citizen (2016), Model Bodyguard (2016), Model Investigator (2017), Model Exposure (2017)

The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks (2021) Mackenzi Lee, main character (Historical Fantasy)


988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Call or text 988


Why Representation in Books Is Important
Mental Health Representation in Books: Depression
Mental Health Representation in Books: Anxiety
Mental Health Representation in Books: Grief
Mental Health Representation in Books: PTSD


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