We use the words "addict" and "addiction" loosely, in all sorts of ways - from light-hearted self-deprecation ("ooh, chocolate!") through uneasy pity, to tight-lipped condemnation. And yet, as this book reminds us, for all our confident ownership of the term, none of us really knows what it signifies.
"The medical profession cannot agree. The addicts don't know. Is it genetic? Behavioural? Is it an emotional flaw... an allergy... a disease? Where does the heavy user cross the line and become the suffering addict?"
Given that uncertainty, together with the need to do something positive, one response is to work at the emotional level through the arts, which is where the charity Northern Bridge Productions comes in. Set up five years ago, it uses drama therapy workshops to help addicts of all kinds and their families. The aim is "to reroute the craving into a creative experience".
This collection of writings from addicts, sent in response to adverts in Time Out and The TES, extends that therapeutic approach. Some of the 24 stories are self-consciously literary, others brutally factual.
Not all of them are about drugs or alcohol. "Bleed Me Dry", for instance, is by a teenage girl who self-harms. "I am a bloody mess and I thought I could control it but it is controlling me." Another, "The Dark Side of the Moon", tells of a terrifying enslavement to a range of eating disorders.
"Twice my weight got so low, I nearly died. I had an out-of-body experience, vision impairment, incontinence."
The writers enlighten us not so much about addiction itself but about what it's like to be addicted. We can only hope the act of writing has been positive for them.