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12 Movies About Addiction

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This article shows how addiction and recovery are portrayed in movies.  The themes of these 12 movies about addiction comprise many of the common stories we see at our rehab facility. Most importantly, the movies show that addiction can be overcome with help.

Clean and Sober (1988)

Synopsis

‘Clean and Sober’ is a 1988 movie that explores the life of a smartass real estate salesman Daryl with a bad cocaine habit.

What is the Plot?

On waking up beside a girl who’s overdosed, and discovering he has embezzled his company’s money, Daryl checks into a rehabilitation center to escape the long arm of the law. While enjoying the freedom that the anonymity of the program offers, under the watchful eye of counselor Craig, Daryl also inches towards the realization that he has a drug problem.  As love blossoms with fellow inmate Charlie, Daryl begins aiming for a new life minus the drugs.

Who are the Stars?

The movie boasts an impressive star cast with Michael Keaton portraying Daryl, the real estate salesman and Morgan Freeman holding court as Craig, the counselor. Kathy Baker plays the role of fellow patient Charlie. Other actors in the movie include M. Emmet Walsh as Richard, Ben Piazza as Kramer, Rachel Ryan as Karen Peluso, Luca Bercovici as Lenny, J. David Krassner as Tiller, Dakin Matthews as Bob, Tate Donovan as Donald, Brian Benben as Martin, Claudia Christian as Iris, and Henry Judd Baker as Xavier.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

During rehab, Daryl comes in contact with Craig, a difficult yet empathetic drug rehabilitation counselor. After considerable effort, Craig brings Daryl face to face with the reality of his addiction and the realization of how much his life is in disarray. The underlying philosophy behind the acceptance of a substance abuse problem and its treatment in the movie hinges upon the adage –‘The best way to break old habits is to make new ones.’ With honesty being one of the new habits that Daryl is encouraged to pick up, he confesses his misdeeds to his employer and loses his job, but is metaphorically free of the fear of facing the truth.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

The movie shows Daryl overcoming his temptation for drugs when he comes to know of Charlie’s death. This is an indication that the protagonist recovers from substance use disorder.

My Name is Bill W(TV Movie 1989)

Synopsis

My Name is Bill W’ is the story behind the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous. The film is a celluloid story about stockbroker William Griffith Wilson, a World War I veteran, who turns to alcohol for solace after his entire fortune is wiped out by the 1929 stock exchange crash.

What is the Plot?

By the time he realized that his small drinking problem has become a serious addiction, Wilson is almost on the street, with his career and family life hitting a dead end. At this juncture, he teams up with Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, also struggling with alcohol abuse problems. The duo set up a support group that became the precursor to the Alcoholics Anonymous of modern times.

Who are the Stars?

The role of William Griffith Wilson was played by James Woods, while James Garner donned the role of Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

The movie chronicles the evolution of Alcoholics Anonymous, the worldwide organization famous for opening its doors to people who wish to overcome their alcoholism. The film depicts the journey of the protagonist from a ‘small drinking problem’ to a scary addiction. The protagonists’ efforts to recover from alcohol dependence and the formation of a support group indicate that the movie is about addiction and recovery.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

Yes, the characters, who are real-life people, successfully use the support system method to overcome their addiction problem.

Rush (1991)

Synopsis

‘Rush,’ released in 1991, paints the painful story of two narcotics agents who succumb to the addictive substances they are supposed to track and destroy.

What is the Plot?

It’s 1975, in Katterly, Texas. Seasoned undercover narcotics police officer Raynor picks out Kristen Cates, as his investigation partner, from a group of fresh police academy graduates.

Raynor makes it clear to Cates that the two of them will have to rely upon each other as they operate in the grey regions between the legal world and the illegal underworld.  Raynor’s teaches Cates how to use heroin as she may find herself in situations where she will have to consume the drugs they buy. Knowing how to actually do drugs could save their lives from suspicious drug dealers.

Raynor and Cates aim to take down the cunning and powerful drug boss, Will Gaines. Somewhere along the way, Raynor and Cates end up becoming lovers instead of just pretending to be so.

Investigation Leads to Addiction

As Raynor expected, Cates finds herself in a position where she has to inject drugs in the presence of a drug dealer. Within a very short time, Cates gets addicted to drugs.  While Raynor, himself on drugs, helps Cates through withdrawal, ultimately becomes addicted too.  Although they both manage to overcome the drug habit, the experience leaves the two traumatized.

Despite all their efforts, Raynor and Cates fail to collect evidence against Gaines. They resort to underhand methods to arrest Gaines under false pretenses. Before the trial begins, Raynor is shot dead by an unknown person.

Surprise Ending

Cates testifies according to the original plan, resulting in Gaines’ indictment. However, during the trial, when Gaines indicates that he had a hand in Raynor’s death, Cates retracts her testimony. As a result, Gaines is acquitted and walks away free. A few nights later, when Gaines gets into his car, someone in the backseat, presumably Cates, shoots him dead.

Who are the Stars?

The movie stars Jason Patric as Jim Raynor and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Kristen Cates. Gregg Allman plays the role of Will Gaines. Some of the other actors who play significant roles in ‘Rush’ include Sam Elliott, Max Perlich as Walker, and Tony Frank.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

‘Rush’ tells the story of two anti-narcotics undercover police officers who get hooked on drugs after they try the real thing to keep up pretenses while dealing with drug dealers. The movie shows how the two cops end up addicted without really meaning to do so. The film also shows the efforts they make to overcome their drug habits, and also help each other to kick the habit.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

The protagonists, Raynor and Cates, manage to overcome their drug addiction after significant efforts.

Basketball Diaries (1995)

Synopsis

Directed by Scott Kalvert, and based on an autobiographical novel penned by Jim Carroll, ‘The Basketball Diaries’ is a 1995 film in the crime-drama genre. The movie journeys through Carroll’s teenage years as he goes downhill, from a high school basketball player and wannabe writer to a heroin addict.

What is the Plot?

Jim Carroll, a high school basketball player, lives a happy life with his friends Pedro, Mickey, and Neutron. When his best friend, Bobby, dies of leukemia, Jim takes to heroin to overcome his grief.

Jim’s is kicked out of home when his mother unearths his drug stash. Jim and his friends Mickey, and Pedro take to petty crimes to fund their drug habit. Jim stoops to prostitution in his desperation for drugs.  Along the way, Jim and his friends get entangled with drug dealers and are on the run from them.

Jim seeks refuge in his mother’s apartment, but she hands him over to the police. He is tried and convicted for several offenses, including possession of narcotic substances. While in jail, Jim gets over his addiction and is sober after his release.

Who are the Stars?

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Carroll, with Ernie Hudson, Bruno Kirby, Lorraine Bracco, Patrick McGaw, Mark Wahlberg, James Madio, and Michael Imperioli in supporting roles.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

‘Basketball Diaries’ takes a personal look at the phenomenon of addiction in a teenager’s life. It details the experiences that drive a promising youngster towards drug and substance use. While showing that drug dependence can create situations that can land a person in prison, the movie also shows that prison can also be a place to begin the journey to a clean, drug-free life.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

The protagonist, Jim, recovers from substance use disorder while completing his prison term.

Gia (1998)

Synopsis

‘Gia’ is a 1998 HBO (Home Box Office network) biographical TV movie that chronicles the tragedy of America’s first supermodel – Gia Marie Carangi.

What is the Plot?

A Philadelphia native, Gia arrives in New York City, all starry-eyed and brimming with ambition as a fashion model. With the help of a happening agent, Wilhelmina Cooper, Gia soon rises to the top of the modeling industry. But a brooding sense of loneliness, amplified after Cooper’s death, drives Gia towards experimenting with cocaine and heroin to alleviate her depression. Gia goes on to hook up with Linda, a makeup artist. In between, Gia tries to get off the drug bandwagon by shifting to methadone. But when forced to choose between methadone and Linda, Gia opts for the former.

Gia falls back upon heroin following failed attempts at rapprochement with Linda and similarly with her mother, Kathleen. While she manages to get rid of her drug addiction, it’s too late for Gia as it turns out that AIDS has set in as a fallout of constant intravenous drug use. Gia spends the rest of her life in a hospital.

Who are the Stars?

The movie stars Angelina Jolie in the title role, while Mila Kunis played the part of an 11-year old Gia. Modeling agent Wilhelmina Cooper was handled with aplomb by Faye Dunaway, while Elizabeth Mitchell played the role of Gia’s lover and makeup artist Linda. Mercedes Ruehl played Kathleen Carangi, Gia’s mother.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

‘Gia’ tells the story behind the substance dependence of America’s first supermodel. The movie details the situations that come along the road to fame – loneliness, friendlessness, depression. It shows how Gia tries to overcome her cocaine habit by switching to methadone, which in turn becomes an addiction. The addiction is so solidly entrenched that she initially prefers it to the company of her lover, Linda.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

Gia does recover from her drug addiction, but to her consternation, she finds herself afflicted with AIDS – the fallout of intravenous drug use.

Permanent Midnight (1998)

Synopsis

A 1998 independent drama film, ‘Permanent Midnight,’ is based on the eponymous autobiographical book by Jerry Stahl. The movie narrates the story of Stahl’s rise from a small-time television writer to a successful comedy writer.

What is the Plot?

The movie is set in a series of flashbacks narrated between sexual bouts in a motel room. Jerry Stahl, who’s on the last leg of his drug rehab program, checks in to a motel room with Kitty, an attractive woman he meets by chance. There, in between rounds of sexual intercourse, Jerry recounts significant points in his life to Kitty.  He recalls his tryst with prescription medications, methadone, heroin, and cocaine amidst the twists and turns in his personal life, even as his professional life was moving upwards. The flashbacks end with Jerry making his way back to Los Angeles to try and get his writing career back on track. He once again bumps into Kitty, and they give themselves up to a final session of sex before parting ways.

The movie ends with Jerry talking on television shows about the problems that drug addiction caused to his life.

Who are the Stars?

The movie stars Ben Stiller as Jerry Stahl, and Maria Bello as Kitty. Also cast in the film is Elizabeth Hurley in the role of Sandra Stahl. Other actors in the 1990 movie include Owen Wilson as Nicky, Lourdes Benedicto as Vola, and Janeane Garofalo as Jana Farmer. The all-star cast also has Fred Willard as Craig Ziffer, Connie Nielsen as Dagmar, and Liz Torres as Dita.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

Along with Jerry Stahl’s evolution as a successful writer, the movie also details his journey downhill on the back of a variety of substances, beginning with prescription medications and ending with cocaine and heroin. It shows the protagonist battling with substance abuse problems, and the movie ends with him discussing the challenges of addiction.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

Jerry Stahl is shown recounting his experiences, indicating that he has won the battle against addiction.

28 Days (2000)

Synopsis

A 2000 release, ’28 Days’ is a movie about a big-city newspaper columnist who spends time in a rehab center after a car accident. While undergoing treatment at the rehab center, she re-evaluates her life and attempts to create a better life for herself.

What is the Plot?

Gwen Cummings, a big-city newspaper columnist, shows up late and disheveled. She delivers a drunken speech, knocks over the wedding cake, and in short, ruins her sister Lily’s wedding. Still hungover, Gwen tries to salvage the situation by rushing out in a stolen car to a nearby cake shop. But she only ends up crashing into a house. Faced with the choice of spending time in prison or 28 days at a rehab center, Gwen chooses the latter.

At the rehab center, Gwen comes across a variety of patients, including a pro basketball player named Eddie. Gwen overcomes her initial reluctance and begins participating in the rehab center activities, even as she becomes close to Eddie. The entry of her boyfriend Jasper complicates things on two levels for Gwen. Her relationship with Eddie, on the one hand, and her addiction problem on the other. Jasper refuses to look at Gwen’s addiction as a problem, and she ultimately decides to move on from her relationship with him.

Gwen overcomes her addiction issues, and along the way, she also resolves her relationship issues with friends and her sister.

Who are the Stars?

’28 Days’ stars Sandra Bullock as the film’s protagonist, Gwen Cummings.  Viggo Mortensen plays the role of a basketball player and fellow-inmate Eddie Boone, while Dominic West plays the role of Gwen’s boyfriend, Jasper.  Elizabeth Perkins acts the part of Gwen’s sister Lily Cummings. Other actors in the film’s cast include Azura Skye, Steve Buscemi, Alan Tudyk, Mike O’Malley, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

Apart from the alcohol addiction of the protagonist, ’28 Days’ also depicts, through the variety of inmates in the rehab center, several different addictions ranging from drugs to sex. The movie shows how the protagonist works hard to overcome her inhibitions and defeat her alcohol abuse problem.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

The characters in the movie, such as Gwen and Eddie, are shown to recover from substance and alcohol use disorder successfully. However, Gwen’s roommate, although cured, commits suicide as she is uncertain of a future outside the rehab center.

Everything Must Go (2010)

Synopsis

Showing up drunk at work once too often sees salesman Nick Halsey lose his job of 16 years. To compound matters, his wife leaves him on the same day. Enterprising Nick organizes a giant yard sale of the things his wife left him. Yard sales become a new career and survival strategy for a determined Nick.

What is the Plot?

Salesman Nick Halsey, fresh from a job loss fueled by his drinking, finds his wife has left, too. Penniless and on the verge of eviction from his home, Nick gets a breather from Detective Frank Garcia, who allows him to stay for three days. With the help of neighborhood kid Kenny, Nick organizes a giant yard sale.

Nick gets friendly with his new neighbor, Samantha, and confides in her. With no money to spare for drink, Nick finds he is going through involuntary withdrawal from alcohol.

Along the way, Nick discovers that his wife is involved with Frank.  But through all these depressing situations, and accompanying temptations, Nick remains sober.

By the end of the movie, Nick accepts the reality of life and settles down to a life of sobriety.

Who are the Stars?

‘Everything Must Go’ features Will Ferrell starring as Nicholas “Nick” Halsey, the alcoholic protagonist. Rebecca Hall plays Samantha, Nick’s new neighbor, while Michael Peña plays the role of Nick’s sponsor, Frank Garcia.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

‘Everything Must Go’ deals with the topic of alcoholism and how it can adversely affect a person’s career and personal life. It also shows how circumstances can help a person wake up to their dependence and consciously walk away from it.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

In the movie, Nick, the protagonist, faces the realities in his life, but does not succumb to the temptation of drink and remains sober.

Flight (2012)

Synopsis

Flight’ is a 2012 movie that revolves around an airline pilot’s journey from being feted as a hero to a villain when it turns out that he saved a plane from crashing, while under the influence of cocaine and alcohol.

What is the Plot?

Captain William “Whip” Whitaker Sr. is an airline pilot who takes cocaine,  before working a flight, after spending a sleepless night partying. As he pilots the flight to Atlanta, the aircraft experiences severe turbulence at takeoff. Even as his co-pilot takes over the controls, Whip surreptitiously mixes vodka in his orange juice and goes to sleep in the cabin while still at the controls. Whip wakes up from his stupor and takes over the controls just in time as the aircraft banks steeply towards the ground. Although he manages to crash land the plane safely, six people lose their lives, and the co-pilot ends up in a coma.

Fallout from the Crash

A drug test conducted on the unconscious Whip immediately after the crash landing shows that he was high on alcohol. Amidst the turmoil in his professional life, Whip has to handle relationship issues with his girlfriend Nicole Maggen, herself battling heroin addiction. 

Whip manages to get himself drunk the night before the National Transportation Safety Board hearing, and his friends manage to clear his head with a dose of cocaine just before the hearing commences. Whip is arrested when, in a fit of remorse, he admits to having been intoxicated on the day of the plane crash and during the NTSB hearing, too.

Sober and in Prison

A year and a month later, in prison, Whip telling a support group comprising of fellow inmates that he is happy to be substance-free and for doing the right thing.

Who are the Stars?

The movie stars Denzel Washington as William “Whip” Whitaker, Sr., and Kelly Reilly as his girlfriend, Nicole Maggen. Other actors in the star cast include Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang, and Bruce Greenwood as Charlie Anderson, Whip’s friend, and drug supplier.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

Flight’ is about the problems that alcohol and substance addiction can bring about in a person’s life. It shows the degeneration of Whip’s character by depicting how he tries to escape from the charges against him, while unable to break away from the grip of drugs. On the other hand, the movie also shows the triumph of the human spirit, when Whip confronts reality and comes clean at the NTSB hearing. He accepts imprisonment as punishment and uses the opportunity to kick his addiction problem.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

The protagonist ‘Whip’ is shown as recovered in the movie when 13 months later, he describes his journey to sanity and how he is happy to have confessed the truth at the NTSB hearing.

Russell Brand – From Addiction to Recovery (2012)

Synopsis

‘Russel Brand – From Addiction to Recovery’ is an intensely personal film that the actor created following the death of singer, and close friend, Amy Winehouse, from a drug overdose. In the movie, Russel Brand goes down memory lane to revisit his years in addiction and tries to instill hope in viewers that all is not lost for all who are have substance abuse disorders.

What is the Plot?

About a decade ago, saddled with a heroin addiction, and a career that was not going anywhere, Russel Brand was informed that he would not live beyond six months. The film describes his fight against drug addiction with an intensely honest accounting. Brand challenges modern society’s approach to addicts and addiction by having the courage to show the world his struggles.

The film explores the ‘condition of addiction’ which, Brand feels, is grossly misunderstood and treated incorrectly. From a series of meetings with people from a broad spectrum of society, Brand invokes insights into addiction and its remedies. The personalities with which he interacts in the film are scientists with expertise in the psychology of addiction.

Brand attempts to turn conventional logic, as well as governmental policy applied in addiction treatment, on its head.  Dipping into his personal experiences, Brand also tries his hand at helping an addict he meets during the course of his film-making journey.

Fortified by the insights gathered and combining them with his beliefs, Brand creates the opportunity to transform the outlook of policymakers when invited to testify before the Home Affairs Select Committee, which was set up to probe the efficacy of the United Kingdom’s prevailing drug addiction treatments.

Who are the Stars?

The star of the film is undoubtedly Russel Brand. But, along with him, are the different people he meets and interacts during the course of making the film. This would include the scientists and researchers probing addiction and its treatment.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

The film was made in the aftermath of the tragic overdose death of famous singer Amy Winehouse. Brand uses the film to talk about addiction and dispel many of the prevailing concepts on addiction and its treatment. Through the film, Brand attempts to convey courage to people suffering from addiction problems.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

Since the film is more in the documentary pattern, it does not have conventional characters that feature films have. However, if we consider Russel Brand as the character, it can be said that he did recover from substance use disorder and has gone on to craft a successful career for himself.

Home Run (2013)

Synopsis

Home Run is a Christian sports drama film that was released in 2013. The movie shows how successful professional baseball player and alcoholic, Cory finds himself again when his agent forces him into a rehabilitation program in his hometown.

What is the Plot?

Cory reluctantly signs up for the ‘Celebrate Recovery’ rehabilitation program in Oklahoma after a series of alcohol-induced incidents, including a car crash, which leaves his brother injured. Cory overcomes his addiction and ultimately ends up as a coach for a Little League team. In the process, Cory and his high school sweetheart get back together, and he builds up a relationship with his son and renews family relationships.

Who are the Stars?

The film stars Scott Elrod as Cory, the protagonist. Other roles in the ‘Home Run’ have been played by Dorian Brown as Emma, Charles Henry Wyson as Tyler, James Devoti as Clay, Nicole Leigh as Karen, Drew Waters as Pajersky, Robert Peters as J.T., and Vivica A. Fox as Helene.

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

The movie shows how a promising professional baseball star goes downhill under the influence of alcohol. Apart from the damage it causes to his professional prospects, alcohol addiction also endangers his brother’s life. The turning point in the fight against alcoholism comes when the protagonist agrees to sign up for a rehab program in his hometown, where he must also confront ghosts from the past.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

The movie is all about the travails of Cory, the protagonist. Cory is seen to have successfully overcome his alcohol addiction and smoothed out the rough edges to his personality along with building bridges to the people who matter the most – his former girlfriend, his son, and his family.

The Anonymous People (2013)

Synopsis

A 2013 feature documentary film, ‘The Anonymous People’ throws light onto the lives of the around 20 million Americans going through long-term recovery from alcohol and substance abuse. Unlike other health issues such as HIV or breast cancer, the success stories behind substance abuse recovery don’t find much mention in mainstream mass media and public discourse because of the social stigma it carries. Lack of information due to the largely anonymous nature of such rehab programs contribute to the vacuum that has emerged around information related to stories of successful recovery.

What is the Plot?

‘The Anonymous People’ is a moving story that is narrated through the personal recollections of experiences of thousands of leaders, celebrities, volunteers, and corporate executives who are stepping forward to save the lives of countless others like them. This inspiring and novel public recovery movement is catalyzing a change that intends to normalize public opinion, and ultimately drive policy toward enduring recovery solutions.

Who are the Stars?

The documentary film features several regular everyday personalities, as well as celebrities and public figures who talk about their experiences with drug and substance abuse and their struggles to overcome addiction. Prominent among the characters featured in ‘The Anonymous People’ are actress Kristen Johnston, former senator Harold Hughes, and former NBA player John Shinholser, among others. 

How is it About Addiction and Recovery?

The documentary attempts to strip away the traditional negativity and stigma attached to drug and substance rehabilitation. It gets real-life people and celebrities to open up about the substance abuse issues they faced and how they overcame them.

Do the Characters Recover from Substance Use Disorder?

The characters in ‘The Anonymous People’ are all real people who have successfully overcome their addiction problems.

Conclusion

Recovery from addiction is possible, and you aren’t the only one struggling. Through these popular films, we have tried to show you how many different types of people substance abuse affects.

When you are ready to begin your journey to recovery, Arrow Passage Recovery is here to help you.

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