Eleven Movies about Addiction
Translating the reality of addiction onto the big screen is a challenge but some movies manage an honest portrayal. In fact, many of them reflect the lengths to which people go to maintain their addictions. Furthermore, how they impact their routine, relationships, and cognitive abilities.
Addiction hijacks and reshapes the brain. It makes people behave in such a way that the object of their addiction becomes the most important thing in their lives. In fact, most addicts devote all their time, money, and energy to their addictions.
It isn’t easy to recreate something so intense and intimate at a cinematic level. For example, the audience may see the behavior on screen but they won’t necessarily understand how addiction can completely take over an individual. Nevertheless, the following films about addiction do a good job of getting viewers to understand the ins and outs of addiction.
Continue reading to learn about eleven movies that often go beyond the morbid in depicting this difficult subject.
Eleven movies about addiction
Addiction doesn’t only revolve around a substance. In fact, there’s a whole range of behavioral addictions.
Take alcoholism, for example. It’s not just about drinking too much. It’s about the consumption of alcohol becoming a priority in the alcoholic’s life, to the exclusion of all else. The following movies about addiction reflect this process of isolation and self-destruction.
This is a 1998 HBO channel biographical movie that chronicles the tragedy of one of America’s first supermodels, Gia Marie Carangi.
Originally from Philadelphia, she arrives in New York City, starry-eyed and brimming with modeling ambition. Angelina Jolie plays the lead role while Mila Kunis has the role of eleven-year-old Gia.
Gia soon rises to the top of the modeling industry with the help of an agent, Wilhelmina Cooper. The movie details her trip to fame as well as her loneliness, lack of friends, and depression.
It also shows how Gia tries to overcome her cocaine habit by switching to methadone, which also becomes an addiction. In fact, her habit becomes so firmly entrenched that she actually prefers it to the company of Linda, her lover.
Clean and Sober (1988)
This 1988 film explores the life of Daryl, a slick salesman addicted to cocaine. One day, he wakes up next to a girl who’s overdosed and realizes he’s embezzled money from the company he works for. He enters a rehab center to avoid doing time.
There, he meets Craig, a difficult but empathetic drug rehab counselor. After considerable effort, the latter brings Daryl face to face with the reality of his addiction and helps him realize just how messed up his life is.
The movie explores the underlying philosophy behind the acceptance of a substance abuse problem and its treatment. It’s based on the idea that “the best way to break old habits is to create new ones.” Honesty is encouraged as one of the new habits Daryl must acquire, so he ends up confessing his various crimes.
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
Jim Carroll, a high school basketball player, enjoys a happy life with his friends. However, his best friend, Bobby, dies of leukemia and he turns to heroin to overcome his grief. His mother kicks him out of the house when she discovers his drug stash. Thus, Jim and his friends turn to petty crime to finance their addiction.
The film examines the phenomenon of addiction in the life of a teenager. It describes the experiences that drive a promising young man to use drugs and substances.
While it shows that drug dependency can create situations that may land a person in prison, the movie also shows that prison can set the starting point for a different life.
A Star Is Born (2018)
This movie is an emotional biggie for anyone who’s been around mental illness and struggled with addiction. A Star Is Born was nominated for eight Oscars, yet won only one ( the best song for “Shallow”).
The movie follows the relationship between a renowned musician, Jackson (Bradley Cooper) and an aspiring singer, Ally (Lady Gaga).
Jackson meets and falls in love with Ally while, at the same time, struggling with his severe addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. Ally’s career takes off thanks, in part, to him, while he continues to deal with his demons.
A Star Is Born shows the real struggle involved in trying to maintain a relationship conditioned by addiction.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
This is one of the most realistic films about addiction in classic cinema. It was written by J.P. Miller and directed by Blake Edwards, director of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Jack Lemmon plays the lead role. He’s a problem drinker who introduces his girlfriend (Lee Remick) to his lifestyle. The National Film Registry selected Days of Wine and Roses for preservation in 2018.
The film chronicles how an alcoholic meets and falls in love with a woman who’s a teetotaler. He introduces her to social drinking and, even though she’s reluctant at first, she begins to enjoy being drunk. They then marry and together enjoy their appetite for alcohol.
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Gus Van Sant’s harrowing second feature, based on an autobiographical novel by James Fogle, chronicles a drug addict ring in the Pacific Northwest. Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon) is the leader of a ‘family’ of drug addicts consisting of his wife, Dianne (Kelly Lynch), and another couple.
They maintain their habit by robbing pharmacies as they travel around the country. However, Bob decides he must leave his dysfunctional clan and move on after one of the members suffers misfortune.
Nevertheless, separating himself from his drug-addicted past proves to be quite difficult, especially when he’s stalked by an old acquaintance looking to buy drugs at any price. Van Sant’s film has few cozy moments. Indeed, it’s a cold, contemplative, and, at times, comic look at the American culture associated with drugs.
When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)
It’s unusual for movies about addiction to feature women, perhaps due to social stigma.
Meg Ryan gives one of her best performances ever in this film. She plays a wife and mother whose drinking problem lands her in rehab. Co-starring Andy Garcia, the film examines alcoholism as a family disease. Ryan received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actress for her role.
Alice Green (Meg Ryan) is a wife and mother of two daughters and an alcoholic. Michael (Andy Garcia), Alice’s husband, is sympathetic and doesn’t make a big deal out of the problem. However, her behavior compromises the safety of her girls and she decides to seek help at a rehab clinic. Her recovery and relationships are put to the test when she returns home.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
This movie depicts a brutal journey to self-destruction. A former screenwriter who’s lost his family, job, and friends due to an addiction to alcohol has decided to kill himself. Nicolas Cage portrays the physical and psychological ravages of addiction with unflinching honesty and won an Oscar for this movie.
His unexpected relationship with a traumatized sex worker shows both the deep limits his alcoholism has created and his ability to still connect with someone in a meaningful way.
Depressing, poignant, and darkly humorous at times, the film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by John O’Brien. He also struggled with alcoholism and actually committed suicide shortly before the filming began.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Ellen Burstyn received an Oscar nomination for her role in Darren Aronofsky’s drama about four Coney Island residents who succumb to drug addiction. Its depiction in Requiem for a Dream is likely to stay with you long after watching it.
The film recounts the lives of four people who go through various stages of drug addiction. It focuses on their most important consequences. A loss of sense of reality, absolute fixation on obtaining drugs, feelings of isolation, and hopelessness.
This is one of the few films that deal with sex addiction. Shame is the story of a New York executive named Brandon (played by Michael Fassbender) a consumer of pornography who also hires sex workers.
The unexpected arrival of his sister at his apartment, who’s also in pain, but of a different kind, uncovers a deep-seated family trauma as the root of his addiction. However, the movie never explicitly addresses it.
The main character’s sexual encounters are often difficult to watch, lacking intimacy and sensuality. It portrays the kind of disconnection he longs for. In fact, Shame clearly reveals that, despite the physical closeness of sexual contact, sex addiction is a rather lonely condition, as, indeed, are most addictions.
The Joker and Ennis Del Mar weren’t the only great characters played by Heath Ledger throughout his short life. In fact, at the peak of his career, the Australian star returned home to star in a small, local, independent film called Candy.
This is one of the best movies about codependent relationships. It’s difficult and devastating watching a couple enabling and degrading each other by the enslaving power of drugs.
Both Ledger and Abbie Cornish manage to perfectly portray the sad young couple eaten away by addiction. It isn’t an easy watch, but its bittersweet yet hopeful outcome is like a light at the end of the tunnel.
Trainspotting might just be the pinnacle of addiction movies. In fact, it’s the perfect example of what it really means to be addicted to heroin.
This 90s gem maintains an almost perfect balance between drug glamorization (drugs are fun, after all, right?) and extreme decadence (dead babies lurking during withdrawal).
To list the memorable sequences of Trainspotting would require a line-by-line synopsis. The creativity is never-ending, and the iconic soundtrack (Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Underworld, among others) only adds to its legendary status.
Understandably, Danny Boyle shot straight to the league of the cinematic elite thanks to this film. With the support of screenwriter John Hodge and Irvine Welsh’s novel, he managed to perfectly portray the drug culture of an entire generation. The movie focuses on some local Edinburgh heroin addicts led by Ewan McGregor.