Short Stories About Addiction: Drugs, Drinking Alcohol or Smoking

In these short stories, characters will be dealing with drug or alcohol addiction. Often, we will see the effect of this on the user and those around them. Some stories will show the consequences of the user’s behavior, and sometimes chronicle their struggle to quit.

Also listed are stories that contain drugs, drinking or cigarettes, but aren’t necessarily about addiction.

Stories With Drugs, Drinking or Smoking

“Car Crash While Hitchhiking” by Denis Johnson

The narrator is soaking wet from sleeping in the rain by the side of the road. A salesman had shared some pills with him and, after that, a college student shared some hashish. He hitches a ride with a family of four.

“Car Crash While Hitchhiking” can be read in the Amazon preview of Jesus’ Son: Stories.

“Ten Keys” by Lee Child

At a familiar dive bar, the narrator sees a guy he’s seen there before. They get talking about some trouble the guy is in. He tells a bit of his “work” history, which started with muling—transporting keys of coke and later selling for the Martinez Brothers. One day recently, he took a chance.

This story can be read in the preview of The Cocaine Chronicles(43% in)

“A Conversation with My Father” by Grace Paley

The narrator’s eighty-six-year-old father is dying with a heart problem. He asks her to craft a story for him before his death. She writes one about a mother and son who become addicts.

“A Conversation with My Father” is the second story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story.

“Reflections of the Past” by Bev Vincent

Greg is back in his hometown, back in his parents house. It’s empty now, and he could use a new start. He had unpaid bills and a dead-end job. He drinks a lot. Only his siblings know he’s there, but he gets a call from an old high school classmate. He’s surprised—he thought his mother had told him she was dead. She wants to meet at a bar.

This story can be read in the Amazon preview of Mickey Finn Vol. 1: 21st Century Noir.

“Angel’s Laundromat” by Lucia Berlin

Lucia and a tall, old Indian man go to the same laundromat. He sits sipping whiskey and looking at her hands in the mirror. Eventually, they interact a bit. There’s a closer and nicer laundromat to Lucia, but she keeps going to this one.

This story can be read in the preview of A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories.

“Kindling” by Raymond Carver

It is summer and Myers has just finished a month of sobering up. He takes a bus to a town near the ocean and rents a room from Sol and Bonnie. Myers doesn’t say much about himself. His landlords speculate a bit about him.

This story can be read in the preview of Call If You Need Me.

“Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes” by Raymond Carver

Evan stopped smoking two days ago. He’s thinking about them all the time. He goes outside to call his son, Roger, for supper. An unfamiliar boy in the driveway tells him Roger is at his place with his mom. There’s been some kind of incident with a bike. He heads over to the house.

This is the second story in the preview of Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver

Two married couples sit in the McGinnis’s apartment, drinking and talking about real love. They use their own, and second-hand experiences, to try to define it. (Analysis & Themes)

Read “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

“Grace” by James Joyce

An alcoholic’s friends stage an intervention and encourage him to attend a Catholic retreat.

This story can be read in the preview of Dubliners(select in table of contents)

“Park & Play” by Hannah Tinti

The narrator is a maid at the Park & Play Motel. They get a lot of lodgers who go to the nearby casino. The owner, Shirley, supports her husband who lost both his legs in Iraq. The maid sees a lot of people and a lot of things at the motel.

This story can be read in the preview of The Nicotine Chronicles(20% in)

“The Penthouse Apartment” by William Trevor

Mr. and Mrs. Runca are preparing for a visit from the crew of a magazine. Their apartment is going to be featured in it for its beauty. The magazine is sending flowers that Mrs. Runca will arrange herself. The Runca’s maid, Bianca, invites another of the apartment’s residents, Miss Winton, up to see it. The caretaker, Mr. Morgan, is also there, attending to a pipe. He likes to drink.

This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories(67% into Kindle preview)

“Idiot Stick” by Damon Knight

A huge alien ship lands in a New Jersey meadow. A stick-bodied man steps out. Earth’s military forces quickly converge on the area—tanks, helicopters and a destroyer. The visitor is from the Galactic Federation and expresses peaceful intentions. The Federation wants to establish a center on Earth and is willing to pay for the land and the human labor to build it. The alien disperses a cloud of glittery objects among the crowd. Partaking of one of them produces a feeling of happiness.

This story can be read in the preview of Far Out(40% into preview)

“Spirits” by James A. Moore

Tyler and Dan, best friends, are at a flea market. Dan is drinking again. Tyler has helped him with this before. They met because each of their wives was killed in the same accident by a tractor-trailer. They bonded over their grief. Early on, it was Dan who was able to provide more help.

This story can be read in the preview of My Favorite Story Podcast Author Anthology(12% in)

“Salvador” by Lucius Shepard

Dantzler and his Special Forces platoon are in El Salvador. When hostilities break out, Dantzler takes two ampules which enhance him physically and mentally. A fellow soldier, DT, is a big proponent of the ampules, although they may be permanently affecting his brain. Their mission is to secure Morazan before the invasion of Nicaragua. Datzler starts using the ampules even more.

This story can be read in the preview of The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection(35% in)

“Wood-Smoke Boys” by Doug Allyn

Dylan LaCrosse’s parents were killed in a car accident by a drunk councilman, Verlander. He was able to use his money to get out of it. Many years later, Verlander vanished while hunting at a game ranch. LaCrosse’s cousin Andre and his uncle Armand are prime suspects, both being ex-cons and having  a motive.

Most of this story can be read in the preview of The Crooked Road Volume 2: Ellery Queen Presents . . . (19% in)

“The Place is Different Now” by Bernard Malamud

Wally Mulane is out of the hospital and back in his old neighborhood, looking for a place to sleep. He tries to avoid the police and look for familiar faces. He’s not comfortable asking for help from strangers. He has a reputation for drinking.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories(49% in)

“Balto” by T. C. Boyle

Mr. Apodaca, an attorney, is talking to Angelle, almost thirteen, about how there are two kinds of truths. Her father was arrested and his car impounded. There are witnesses who will have their version of what happened, and Mr. Apodaca wants to be sure Angelle’s version is the right kind of truth. Her father had been at lunch with Marcy that day and was late picking her up. He seemed a bit different.

This story can be read in the preview of Wild Child: And Other Stories(13% in)

“Pretty Little Parasite” by David Corbett

Sam Pitney, a server at a casino, finds Mike around midnight. She makes an exchange, taking the stuff and bringing him the money. Sam’s pregnant and wants to make a change. She wants to meet Mike’s supplier and go into business for herself.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of Las Vegas Noir(59% in)

“A Spinster’s Tale” by Peter Taylor

The narrator, Elizabeth, grew up in an all male household. Looking back, she relates some interactions with her father, her brother, and Mr. Speed. Her brother drank too much, and Mr. Speed was a repulsive drunk.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of Complete Stories

“Swimming Upstream” by Beth Brant

Anna May stopped at a motel to rest. She dreamt of her son Simon again, drowning while she tried to save him. At first it was a nightmare, but now the dream is familiar. When she’s awake, she imagines things about him. Her ex-husband had custody of Simon. She was unfit—she lived with a woman and had a history of alcoholism. Anna needed to get away for a while. She’s been thinking lately about drinking, just one bottle of wine.

“Crossover” by Octavia E. Butler

Jane has a difficult factory job soldering J9 connectors. Someone is unhappy whether she works fast or slow. She goes to the liquor store after work, and runs into an old acquaintance.

“A Pursuit Race” by Ernest Hemingway

William Campbell is the advance man for a traveling burlesque show. As long as he keeps ahead of it he gets paid. The manager of the burlesque troupe, Mr. Turner, catches up to him in Kansas City. William is intoxicated; Mr. Turner suggests he take a cure.

“Wine of Wyoming” by Ernest Hemingway

During prohibition, a man drinks beer at the home of the Fontan’s, French immigrants. Madam Fontan turns away some drunk people, saying they have no more. She complains to the narrator about her daughter-in-law. She invites him back for dinner with her and her husband.

“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

The narrator is a teacher in Harlem; he has managed to keep away from the bad influences around him. His brother, Sonny, is a jazz musician with a heroin problem. They haven’t stayed close over the years.

Read here

“Surprise!” by Robert Phillips

Fallick is in his bathrobe on Saturday afternoon, still feeling the effects of his hangover, when the doorbell rings. It’s Nat and Jane Bellow, friends who made a two-hour drive because they say they were invited. Fallick and his wife start scrambling to host their guests.

“Big Blonde” by Dorothy Parker

Hazel Morse was a beautiful blonde, an ex model who was fun and popular with men. When she starts showing signs of her age, she wants to marry a man, Herbie, but he isn’t interested. She starts drinking and hanging out with a new group of people.

Read “Big Blonde”

“Customs of the Country” by Madison Smartt Bell

A young mother tries to get her life back in order. Her husband is in prison on a drug charge, and she was addicted to Dilaudid (an opioid), which led to her injuring her son.

“Where I’m Calling From” by Raymond Carver

The narrator goes to a rehab facility. He was sent there by his girlfriend, also a drinker. While he’s there over the Christmas season, he thinks about what led him to this point and he describes the relationships he forms there.

Read here

“Murphy’s Xmas” by Mark Costello

Murphy wakes up with an injured fist and no memory of the previous night. He’s going to his parents’ home along with his estranged, pregnant wife and their son. Before leaving he asks his girlfriend, Annie, for forgiveness.

“Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Charlie Wales returns to Paris to get back his daughter, Honoria. She has been living with his sister, Marion. Charlie is financially secure and has abandoned the partying and drinking that contributed to the death of his wife and loss of his daughter.

Read here

“To Hell with Dying” by Alice Walker

Mr. Sweet, an old man, is a diabetic, alcoholic, and a guitar player. When Mr. Sweet was on the brink of dying—which was often—the narrator’s family would “revive” him with love and attention.

“Skipper” by Alden Nowlan

Ethel and Rupert have five sons. Skipper is the youngest son, and Ethel wants to keep him from his father’s world, the world that claimed her other four sons—working at the mill, getting drunk, and abusing his family.

“Escapes” by Joy Williams

The narrator, Lizzie, thinks about her life as a young girl with her mother, an alcoholic. After her father left, Lizzie and her mother spent a lot of time together.

“In the Zoo” by Jean Stafford

A visit to a zoo reminds two sisters of a childhood friend, an alcoholic with a lot of animals, who gave them a puppy. Their foster mother had a bad effect on the dog.

“Diary of a Quitter” by Ralph Reppert

The narrator decides to quit smoking. He relies on willpower, changes his diet, and takes frequent warm baths to help him stay away from cigarettes.

“The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows” by Rudyard Kipling

The narrator relates the story told him by Gabral Misquitta, a half-caste opium addict, six weeks before his death. It is of his life at Fung-Tching’s opium den, including the experiences of others there.

Read “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows”

“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” by J. D. Salinger

Mary Jane arrives late for her visit with Eloise. The former college roommates drink, smoke and make idle chatter. After a while, Eloise’s daughter, Ramona, enters with her imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimmereeno. Mary Jane asks about him. The conversation eventually turns to Eloise’s old love, Walt Glass, a young soldier who was killed in an accident.

“A Sale” by Guy de Maupassant

Brument and Cornu are in court, accused of the attempted murder by drowning of Brument’s wife. They were both intoxicated during the time in question. They explain their intentions to the judge.

The plot doesn’t indicate it, but this is a lighthearted story.

Read “A Sale”

“An Alcoholic Case” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A nurse is staying with an alcoholic, trying to keep him from drinking and tending to his medical needs.

“A Beautiful Death” by Adam Fout

A college student lives with her addiction.

Read “A Beautiful Death”

“The Lost Decade” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A visitor, Louis Trimble, enters an editor’s office. Orrison Brown is instructed to take Trimble to lunch because Trimble feels he has been away a long time.

Read “The Lost Decade”

“Chef’s House” by Raymond Carver

The narrator relates the time when her estranged husband, Wes, rented a house and tried to quit drinking. She goes to live with him there and they have a relaxed time. Wes stays sober. One day the owner visits with some news.

“All Shall Love Me and Despair” by Jean Thompson

Scout and his girlfriend, Annie, have left Chicago for the Oregon coast. Scout is a drug addict. He eats badly during the trip, and is ill. Annie thinks highly of Scout, despite everything.

“Clean” by Avital Gad-Cykman

A woman is being interviewed about her addictions. She is trying to get sent to a public detoxifying camp.

Read “Clean”

“The Northern Lights” by Joy Harjo

Whirling Soldier is a Native American Vietnam War veteran. In flashbacks, we see his childhood, his war days and his post-war life. He has struggled with drug and alcohol use.

“Oh! The Public” by Anton Chekhov

Podtyagin swears off drinking and devotes himself to his work as a ticket collector on a train. He rouses his crew at one in the morning and starts demanding to see everyone’s ticket.

Read “Oh! The Public”

“The Marijuana Party” by Mary Helen Ponce

It’s Petra’s fortieth birthday. She’s a Mexican American housewife. She wants to do something different and exciting. She has a joint she found after her nephew visited; she plans on sharing it with her friends, Tottie and Emily.

“Too Good to Be True” by Michelle Huneven

Harriet, a recovering addict herself, volunteers to drive Gayle to her A. A. meeting. On route, Gayle points out some places that played a part in her old life. She lived on the streets for almost two years. After some outside attempts at forcing recovery that didn’t take, Gayle decides to get clean.

“After Saturday Nite Comes Sunday” by Sonia Sanchez

Sandy went to the bank to confront them about an error on her account—it shows she’s three hundred dollars overdrawn. It turns out the man she lives with, Winston, is responsible for the lost funds. He’s using heroin again. He swears he’s going to stop. The situation causes Sandy to start stuttering again.

“Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog” by Stephanie Vaughn

Gemma relates episode from her life, with a focus on her father, Zachary, a military officer. He was an alcoholic, which caused a lot of tension between her parents. He made a point of teaching Gemma lessons he thought would benefit her. Her grandmother also lived with them.

“An Honest Thief” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The narrator takes a lodger in his small living space, Astafy. One night, there’s an incident. A stranger enters his home, grabs his coat and flees. Astafy pursues the thief without success. He’s very upset by this, and dwells on it for some time. It leads Astafy to relate the story of a thief he once knew who was honest, in a way. The man was Yemelyan, a heavy drinker.

“The Last Kayfabe” by Ray Banks

The narrator, a former pro wrestler, is making a deal with Leon and Monty. He’s given the money to Leon, but Monty is a bit slow turning over the product.

Read “The Last Kayfabe”