Popular culture has a tendency to make light of difficult situations like addiction. Addiction and substance abuse in particular are difficult subjects when it comes to Hollywood. Producers, actors, directors, and writers sometimes have a hard time walking the fine line between telling the real story and glamorizing addiction. There have been some movies that walk that line very well and give the best and most accurate picture of what addiction is like. Addicts who watch these movies during their recovery and after may find that they are reminded of how hard they have worked, how far they have comes, and what it could mean to go back there. On the other hand, some of these movies may be triggers so please watch with caution.
1. The Boost
The Boost is the much overlooked picture of a life gone wrong. A husband, played by James Woods, have a recreational cocaine habit that eventually turns into true addiction. He gets his wife hooked too and they lose everything – jobs, money, home, friends. It may be a bit over the top, but this sad story of a regular couple undone by drugs to too true and happens to often to not make a realistic movie.
Based on the book by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting was a controversy from the start. Depicting a group of Scottish youths who turn to heroin as a way to escape their lives, this movie has moments of hilarity that led some to believe that it was making light of drug use and glorifying it. Eventually, the characters come to realize that there are no easy solutions to the banalities of life when things do not go exactly as planned. Some sink into addiction and some get out – just like in real life.
3. Drugstore Cowboy
Nothing like a jaunt through the Pacific Northwest robbing hospitals and pharmacies to keep your family together. The family in question is a gang of drug users who will go to great lengths in order to keep their habits going. After tragedy strikes the gang, actor Matt Dillion decides to get clean, but then finds out that it is much more difficult than just not taking drugs to get yourself out of that life.
4. Days of Wine and Roses
Made in 1962 by director Blake Edwards starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses draws an all too real portrait of a husband and wife who lose everything because of alcohol addiction. He was a social drinker who started drinking more to deal with the stress from his job. She started drinking more to be able to deal with him. They both descend into madness. It is said that Blake Edwards, Jack Lemmon, and Lee Remick all sough help for alcohol abuse after the making of this film.
5. Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream is one of the most well-known movies there is about addiction. It has been touted as the most realistic portrayal of drug users ever depicted in film. This film shows the effects of drug addiction on people of all ages. As the addictions for the four main characters get stronger because of their inability to step away from the life, they are trapped in their own delusions until reality comes crashing down over them. Actress Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance depicting addiction in older people.
6. The Basketball Diaries
The Basketball Diaries is a movie based on the autobiographical book by Jim Carroll. If you’re looking for realistic movies about addiction, it doesn’t get much more accurate than hearing a true story. In this movie, a young Leonardo Di Caprio is a promising basketball star who gets addicted to heroin. Leonardo’s character — Jim Carroll — finds himself depressed when one of his closest friends dies of leukemia and turns to drugs as a solution. Quickly, Jim finds himself spiraling into a severe heroin habit, getting suspended from school and kicked out of his home. At one point, Jim resorts to prostituting himself for drugs. This substance abuse movie is an excellent look at how quickly an addiction can overtake every part of a person’s life.
7. Clean and Sober
Clean and Sober might be a little old, initially released in 1988, but it still holds up today. Michael Keaton plays a successful realtor named Daryl Poynter who’s addicted to cocaine. During a one-night stand, Daryl wakes up in the morning to kiss the woman in his bed, only to discover she’s died from an overdose. In an attempt to hide from the police, Daryl checks into a new rehab facility that offers a 30-day program and guarantees anonymity. During his time at the facility, Daryl realizes he has a problem and starts to take his addiction treatment seriously. Clean and Sober will always make the list of top drug rehab movies because it’s said to have one of the most accurate portrayals of addiction treatment.
This 2014 film isn’t well known, but when it comes to movies about addiction, this one is likened to classics such as Requiem for a Dream or Drugstore Cowboy. Animals follows the journey of a couple addicted to heroin and always looking for their next fix. The plot doesn’t follow the couple spiraling to rock bottom; instead, they’re already there. The movie makes a commentary on how drug addiction can impact anyone (both characters are from middle-class families). And make no mistake, while this movie follows a couple, it doesn’t romanticize addiction at all.
9. Leaving Las Vegas
In Leaving Las Vegas, Nicholas Cage stars as John O’Brien, an alcoholic who has given up on himself. When it comes to movies about alcoholism, Leaving Las Vegas is a harsh look at the subject. O’Brien is a suicidal alcoholic who decides to move from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. He drinks the entire way as he drives down and then continues to spiral once he’s in the city. This movie is particularly hard to watch as it’s based partially on author John O’Brien’s life, and O’Brien committed suicide shortly after signing away the rights to the film.
Rush is another movie that illustrates how anyone, from any life, can get swept up in addiction. This movie follows two undercover cops who end up getting hooked on the same drug they’re trying to keep off of the streets. The film is entertaining while also showing how quickly an addiction can overtake one’s life and become the top priority.
Any or all of these movies could be enough to scare a person away from the life of drug and alcohol addiction. They all show that there is little glamour and much tragedy associated with it. Some have even become required viewing in drug and alcohol recovery programs.