8 YA Reads to Spark Authentic Discussions About Drugs and Alcohol


Talking about drugs and alcohol with young adults can be a delicate matter. One way to approach this topic is to introduce thought-provoking young adult (YA) literature that addresses drug and alcohol use among teens. These novels offer authentic and engaging narratives, which can spark meaningful conversations. Here are eight YA reads that tackle the complexities of substance abuse and the impact it has on an individual’s life.

1. “Go Ask Alice” by Anonymous

This classic novel presents the issue of drug addiction through a teenage girl’s diary entries. “Go Ask Alice” chronicles her descent into drug addiction, as she navigates two worlds – her sober life where she tries to fit in, and her secret life as a drug user.

2. “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins

Written in verse, “Crank” explores the life of Kristina, a seemingly perfect teenage girl who becomes addicted to crystal meth after a chaotic introduction to the drug. The story follows Kristina as she struggles to balance her addiction with her everyday life and relationships.

3. “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

While not focused solely on substance abuse, Speak covers difficult topics including trauma, mental health, recovery, and self-expression. The protagonist, Melinda Sordino, turns to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms after enduring a traumatic event.

4. “The Spectacular Now” by Tim Tharp

Sutter Keely is an outgoing high school senior who enjoys partying and drinking but avoids thinking about his future. When he befriends Aimee Finecky, a socially awkward girl with dreams of escaping their small town life, they both experience personal growth while confronting their own issues with substance use.

5. “Junk” by Melvin Burgess This controversial novel pulls no punches when discussing drugs and their consequences through the eyes of Tar and Gemma, two teenagers experimenting with the world of drugs. “Junk” offers a raw and honest portrayal of the consequences they face as a result of their choices and addiction.

6. “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” by Nic Sheff

Noteworthy due to it being a memoir, “Tweak” chronicles the real-life experiences of author Nic Sheff as he becomes addicted to crystal meth during his teenage years. This brutally honest account details how addiction impacted every aspect of his life and is an important read for understanding the darker side of substance abuse.

7. “Lucy in the Sky” by Anonymous

Similar to “Go Ask Alice,” this book offers another anonymous diary-style account of teenage drug addiction. Lucy struggles with her innocence and desire for new experiences while ultimately being drawn into the world of drug use. This exploration of experimentation provides readers with a realistic view of how easily addiction can take control.

8. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green

Although not centered around drug use, John Green’s coming-of-age novel showcases characters who experiment with alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs as part of their journey towards self-discovery. The novel raises essential questions about consequences, friendships, and life choices.


These eight YA novels offer authentic representations of substance abuse and its impact on teenagers. By discussing these stories with young adults, parents and educators can initiate open conversations about drugs, alcohol, and their potential repercussions on an individual’s life. It’s vital that these discussions occur, fostering awareness and helping teens make informed decisions about their own lives.

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