Drugs are hardly a good thing, and we here at Lifehack Lane must stress that we in no way advocate anything to do with illicit substances. That being said, it is undeniable that the influence of illegal and banned substances on pop-culture is evident and far-reaching in both good and bad ways.
Literature is one of these mediums where drugs have shaped whole genres and novels. Here we look at a few of the best where the subject has been touched upon.
1. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
Not directly about drug intake this book would not be what it is without it though. Kerouac was one of the fathers of the Beat Generation, and this piece of literature is probably as influential a part of it as Allen Ginsberg's Howl. A semi-autobiographical novel, On The Road, sees the protagonist travel the length and breadth of America by any means possible (and mostly by the only means affordable) interacting with the people, listening to jazz and smoking a hell of a lot of pot. Interactions with addicts and experimentation with different substances are recurring themes and lend to the air of throwing caution to the wind.
It is the ultimate in road trips and adds a level of profound self-discovery over a humorous take on the discovery of his vast country. Unbound by social convention the narrator is spirited and audacious and it has led to countless generations just getting in their car and seeing how far they can get. Inspiring a whole counter-culture with its depiction of freedom, this is arguably one of the most influential books of its time.
2. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson became infamous for his gonzo journalism in which he would turn up to places and go on a bender fuelled by a cocktail of drugs and then document what he saw through the prism of this chemical haze. A divisive figure in his writing because of this, some people love him others cannot stand the writing it produces.
Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas is the quintessential example of this where he hires a car and drives out to Las Vegas to write about a racing event which he soon ditches to whirl around the city of sin fleeing from killer bats and human eating lizard people that his tripping mind is visualizing. Scary in the sense of what drugs can do to a person and darkly comic in how he reacts, it can also be seen as a satire on the American dream. It was turned into a cult film starring Johnny Depp.
3. Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh
Raw, visceral and candid, the book follows a group of Scottish heroin users living in Edinburgh in the early 90s as they scam and scheme their way across the city in search of the money for their next hit and with a self-awareness that it is this addiction that ties their friendship group together.
Written in phonetic Scots, it's a vicious, fast-paced comment on both drug habits and the nature of male friendship. Spawning an iconic film, it became a defining piece of work for the 90s.
4. The Perks of being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
Chbosky's 1999 novel chronicles the troubled years of the teenage protagonist, Charlie, who writes a string of letters to an anonymous friend. With his identity concealed, Charlie pours forth his feelings of introversion, abuse, and drug use.
However, it was the chapters depicting homosexuality that got up the noses of many rather than the drugs with many libraries across the US being quick to withdraw the novel from their shelves.
5. Requiem For A Dream - Hubert Selby Jr.
Depicting different forms of drug addiction is never going to be an easy task but the novel captures both the brutality and sentimentality of the book showing prescription drug users fall into a world of delusion and denial whilst heroin addicts are prepared to do anything to get their hit, including jeopardize relationships and lose everything they have.
Another cult novel that was turned into a highly praised film, it does not shy away from the fact that happy endings don't always happen.
6. Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace
Epically long coming in at around 900 pages plus a further 100 pages of footnotes, this book may not be easy going but it is a fantastic read following the narratives of pot smoking tennis prodigies and the occupants of a local rehab center where parallels are drawn and mirrored, and yet nothing is brought to a solid conclusion.
The novel offers up no answers, no definitives, and little set structure and yet the way it presents the lives of people stuck in ruts of drug abuse or otherwise is both engaging and enthralling.
7. Confessions of An English Opium-Eater - Thomas DeQuincey
Most people consider drug addiction a modern phenomenon, but this novel written in 1821 is an autobiographical account of the author's struggles with opium and alcohol in a classic novel about his life and how his addictions came about.
A telling look into the opium trade within the British Empire at the time, it was criticized for possibly presenting too positive a view of the nature of addiction, and it wasn't until a year after its first publication that an appendix was added about the nature of withdrawal as well.
8. Junky - William S. Burroughs
A primary figure in the beat generation, Burroughs had a wild and somewhat tragic life with most of his writing coming from his drug abuse. Many would point to Naked Lunch as his masterpiece, but with no real narrative and just a seemingly incoherent series of lucid drug trips, Junky probably serves as a far better read.
Semi-autobiographical, Burroughs goes into the nature of how he buys drugs, the street names and how his problems led him to flee America.
9. Tweak - Nic Sheff
A story of a series of relapses, the weary narrator seems unimpressed by the amount of brutality his body, mind, and soul have endured as there is an underlying hope of just wanting to die.
Tragic and lonesome it is the sense of isolation from the world that makes this book so heart-wrenching as to why the narrator turned to substance abuse.
10. The Man With The Golden Arm - Nelson Algren
Winner of the very first National Book Award for fiction, The Man with the Golden Arm follows World War II veteran Frankie, who has returned to the United States addicted to morphine. As he struggles with poverty and his drug habit in the inner city, he attempts to make it as a musician and starts an affair.
More about poverty and the rejection of the working classes by the political elite than an explicit tale of drugs, it is undoubtedly used to comment on the state of American society and how it affects the lower classes more so.