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.

These stories will show the consequences of the user’s behavior, and sometimes chronicle their struggle to quit.

Some stories might contain drug use as an important plot point, even though the characters aren’t addicts.

Car Crash While Hitchhiking | 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.

A Conversation with My Father | 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 | 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.

Grace | 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)

“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)

A Spinster’s Tale | 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.

Sonny’s Blues | 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! | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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.

Read here

In the Zoo | 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 | 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 | 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”

A Sale | 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 | F. Scott Fitzgerald

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

Read “An Alcoholic Case”

A Beautiful Death | Adam Fout

A college student lives with her addiction.

Read “A Beautiful Death”

The Lost Decade | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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.

Read “Too Good to Be True”

After Saturday Nite Comes Sunday | 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 | 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.

Read “Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog”

An Honest Thief | 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.