I’m a writer and journalist based in Toronto. My second book, On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Matters of Substance, was published by Goose Lane Editions in September, 2021. It’s a look at opioids, pain, the nature of dependence, the overdose crisis, and what we all need to be well. It’s available now. The Walrus Magazine adapted an excerpt, so you can try before you buy!


“A beautifully written meditation on opioids, addiction, joy, and pain — and the cruel and rigid policies we devise that mainly serve to make suffering worse.”

Maia Szalavitz, author of Undoing Drugs

“Carlyn Zwarenstein provides a voice previously missing from the overdose crisis. With empathy and urgency, she takes us inside the world of people who use opioids at a time when they are dying in record numbers. On Opium captures people’s pain, hope, and resilience, and in sharing their stories, provides a blueprint to end the crisis.”

Travis Lupick, author of Fighting for Space

“Zwarenstein not only plumbs the depths of pain and relief and dependence on relief but traces the blurred lines between writer and subject on that — perhaps needlessly — charged question: What do we do for pain and its wily life-thieving-or-enabling remedy? What would happen if we turned our focus to the prevention and elimination of suffering, rather than the demonization and criminalization of sufferers?”

Anna Mehler Paperny, author of Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me


On Opium expands upon its novella-length predecessor, Opium Eater: The New Confessions, a brief meditation on opioid painkillers & pain that was a Globe 100 Best Book of 2016. That shorter book was also shortlisted for the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada book award.

Room Magazine’s Lauren Kirshner describes that first book as “a sensuous and compelling meditation”, while Jade Colbert wrote in the Globe & Mail,

“In her Confessions – a 21st-century update on De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) – Zwarenstein achieves that rare thing: a dispassionate account informed by deeply personal experience. Readers will benefit from this measured look at the causes of our increased dependence, which doubles as a critical memoir on the relationship between opioids, creativity, and pain.”

Opium Eater is taught on graduate and undergraduate university courses in both English literature and addiction studies. Find out more about teaching Opium Eater.

I live in Toronto, spend time in Mexico City, and write about a lot of different things, both in books and as a long-time independent journalist.

Right now I am working on my first novel, and on a book of essays about travels in the world and in the mind. Current journalism and essay projects touch on subjects as diverse as kindness, visual arts, harm reduction, evidence in medicine & climate science, and literature.

For information about my books, please contact Marilyn Biderman at Transatlantic Agency. I’m also on Twitter, @CarlynZwaren.

Member, Writers’ Union of Canada and IWW Freelance Journalists Union.

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