10 Movies About Addiction
Struggling with addiction leads to dramatic, gut-wrenching, emotionally strained situations; it’s no wonder that Hollywood has produced several excellent movies on the subject. Many of the circumstances played out in these films will resonate with recovering addicts, and some are based on real people. Here is a list of movies about addiction (in no particular order).
1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The vision of author Hunter S. Thompson and illustrator Ralph Steadman’s classic psychedelic road trip is beautifully translated onto the big screen as Johnny Depp transforms into Raoul Duke, a journalist dispatched to Las Vegas with his sidekick Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro). The two devour a suitcase full of pharmaceuticals, transforming their experience in mind-bending ways.
After saving countless lives with a miraculous commercial airline crash-landing, a severe alcoholic must live up to the title of hero, despite his overpowering addiction. When details surface of his alcoholism, he must face harsh accusations of endangering the very lives he saved.
Traffic is a movie that looks at the world of drugs from several perspectives. At the heart is a bright young girl with the world of opportunity before her—and under the nose of her DEA father—she slips into the realm of addiction.
4. Requiem for a Dream
An unblinking look at the addictions of four people living in Coney Island, NY. Recognized as a poignant, beautiful, and important film, Requiem for a Dream invokes upsetting if not outright disturbing feelings for viewers. Yet a window into the world of addiction is never very pretty and this film does not mean to romanticize a thing about drug use. In fact, watching it highlights the vicious nature of drug use itself.
The main character Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) tries to escape the clutches of heroin addiction in Edinburgh, Scotland. His deep connection to the drug as well as the influence of his friends make it near impossible.
6. Leaving Las Vegas
Ben, a fired screenwriter from Hollywood (Nicholas Cage), accepts that his life is irreparable, and goes to Las Vegas to end it all by literally drinking himself to death. He strikes a co-dependent romantic relationship with Sera, a prostitute who walks the fine line between wanting him to get help and pushing him away.
7. Drugstore Cowboy
A group of drug addicts robs drugstores to fund their habit. A deep and honest look at the culture, suffering, and desperation of drug users. Drugstore Cowboy is powerful in many ways. Matt Dillion as Bob leads a cast of believable and sympathetic characters who try to outrun both the law and themselves.
8. The Basketball Diaries
A promising young basketball star, Jim Carroll (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), risks losing his future when he becomes addicted to heroin. The downward spiral of the main character could be relatable to many addicts, as even though Jim seems to be blessed with off-the-charts talent, his addiction destroys his life.
9. Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery
The actor and comedian dives into stories of his own life to highlight his experience with drug abuse—after losing his friend Amy Winehouse to addiction. Thoughtful and engaging, this documentary portrays what it’s like to be both successful and addicted.
An action-thriller that explores the dangers of addiction—and reminds us that anything too good to be true probably is—Limitless is about a fictional drug that allows the user to utilize 100% of their brain power. Eddie (Bradley Cooper) becomes hooked on the experimental pharmaceutical known as NZT, but soon realizes it’s deteriorating his health beyond repair, that the supply will soon diminish, and there are hitmen who want the drug for themselves.
11. Less Than Zero
A college freshman returns to his upscale Beverly Hills neighborhood for the holidays but discovers that his former best friend has a serious drug problem. The basic lesson learned here is that like many other movies of its kind, just because you seem to have all the advantages in life, doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to addiction.
Again, addiction can take hold of anyone, as this movie presumes, as two undercover narcotics agents fall under the spell of heroin while trying to take down a major drug dealer. They become so entrenched in drug use and the resulting lifestyle, they fail to gather legitimate evidence and resort to planting fake evidence to get a conviction.
13. Permanent Midnight
Ben Stiller portrays comedy writer Jerry Stahl, whose heroin addiction threatens to unravel his life. A powerful performance by Stiller gives credibility and resonance to this film.
14. 28 Days
Sandra Bullock stars as a New York City journalist who battles with alcoholism. She thinks she has everything under control until she crashes her sister’s wedding, and is court-ordered to enter rehab for 28 days. Sprinkled with humor, this film never crosses the line to poke fun at those with addictions, yet tackles the subject of addiction with the importance it deserves.
15. Everything Must Go
Will Ferrell takes a break from his penchant for comedy and deftly handles the heavier role of an alcoholic recently fired from his job, one who comes home to find his wife has thrown his possessions all over the yard. Content to sit in his chair in his front lawn, he decides to have a yard sale and meets tons of people, some of whom eventually breathe purpose into his life again.
Watching movies that tackle addiction can be fascinating, vulgar, depressing, and downright disturbing. They teach valuable lessons about drug abuse and addiction—forcing us to question our own habits and lives. If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction, then know the movie you’re living—your life—can roll its end credits over a happy ending.