7 Movies About Addiction and Recovery

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Have you ever watched a movie and thought, I identify with that? Or that could’ve been me. Addiction and recovery are serious and personal topics with stories that deserve to be told. When you talk about addiction, it’s a thing. But movies about addiction involve people with real emotions who go through life-altering changes. These movies dealing with addiction, although fictional, can serve as inspiration to start your own journey to recovery or help others who may be wanting to do the same. This genre of film has brought many kinds of stories to life, while showing the human side to addiction we don’t always get to see.

When a Man Loves a Woman

This 1994 drama stars Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia. It’s about a couple trying to work through both the effects of alcoholism and sobriety. Alice (Ryan) has a drinking problem that begins to take its toll on her husband, Michael (Garcia), and their two young daughters. From the beginning of the movie, it’s obvious the couple is madly in love, which makes it all the more difficult for alcoholism to come between them.

After an intoxicated incident that requires a hospital stay, Alice goes to rehabilitation for her addiction. Michael is left caring for the two girls on his own while juggling his career as a pilot. When Alice returns home sober weeks later, it causes a shift that neither one of them is really expecting.

Alice is now confident and composed rather than needing to lean on Michael as she has in the past. Although he is grateful for her sobriety, the change makes it tough on both of them to adjust to their new life and roles. Eventually, Michael begins attending meetings for spouses of alcoholics. He finds support to identify what it meant for him to have his wife be reliant on him and then have it changed.

When a Man Love a Woman shows the ups and downs of addiction and recovery. While it may seem obvious that Michael should’ve been nothing but happy to have his wife sober, it was a relearning of sorts because of her newfound independence. The movie takes the viewer into what alcoholism looks like from different perspectives. It also shows the importance of strong, positive influences who can weather the changes from addiction to recovery and beyond.

28 Days

It’s not too far-fetched to see Sandra Bullock play the life of the party. In the 2000 movie, 28 Days, she is Gwen Cummings, a columnist who spends her nights drinking with her boyfriend (Dominic West) and having a good time. Seems harmless enough but the severity of her alcohol problems come to light when she shows up late to her sister’s wedding and causes a scene because she is intoxicated yet again.

Later she steals a limo and winds up crashing it into a home. She is then given the option of spending 28 days in jail or 28 days in a rehabilitation center. She chooses the latter but is in denial that she even needs treatment. She doesn’t take her stint seriously at first and winds up get kicked out of rehab due to drinking and taking drugs her boyfriend has snuck to her. She doesn’t want to go to jail but feels she can kick her addiction on her own. After going through the initial withdrawal stages, she begs to be given a second chance in rehab. Realizing that her addiction is bigger than what she wanted to admit, she goes through the process of getting sober. However, when she gets out, she goes back to a lifestyle where the temptation of drinking and drugs is still there. Her boyfriend is not a support to her newfound sobriety.

This is where addiction and recovery movies can really hit home as the movie takes a look at a few familiar situations when suffering from addiction and struggling with recovery. First, not everyone who has problems with addiction is ready to admit it. The problems that other people see may not be apparent to the one who is actually suffering. Many times it comes down to a “rock bottom” place like legal trouble or losing a job that will make someone take notice. However, if you realize you are in this place, it’s still up to you to get treatment. To reach a point of sobriety and maintain it, you have to be all in.

When inpatient or outpatient treatment is complete, you may still have the same tempting influences around you like Gwen did. It can be difficult to say goodbye to your old life but if your sobriety depends on it, then the changes are worth it. You want people around you who support your health and understands what you need to maintain a sober path.


Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar for his leading role as a pilot suffering from addiction in Flight. In the movie, his hard partying ways has become something he has gotten used to. He’s still able to safely fly planes without incident. But after one specific flight where the plane has a malfunction and he must make an emergency landing, his alcohol and drug behavior is called into question. His job, career, and reputation suddenly are all on the line.

Here the movie portrays another situation where something drastic happens in order to wake the person up. Hopefully, hitting the bottom isn’t always the case to inspire sobriety. It may seem like your alcohol use or drug addiction isn’t putting others in danger but it is. And it’s definitely putting you at higher risk for adverse heart, brain, and liver conditions. The more serious the problem begins, the more symptoms you will experience.

If you have learned to “function” with your addiction, it can be harder to see just how much it is affecting your life. Functioning alcoholics are perceived to have their life together on the outside, while inside they are struggling. Regardless of if you are able to go through your day-to-day without major incident, if you are suffering from an addiction of any kind, it will catch up with you. You deserve the opportunity to take care of your health and combat your addiction with support necessary to help you through it.

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This early 90’s film stars Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh who play undercover narcotics officers who become too close to their case. Jim Raynor (Patric) is teaching newbie (Jason Leigh) the ropes of what it takes to be part of the illegal underworld. These trainings include showing her how to shoot heroin, in case she’s faced with the situation on one of their runs. Although he assures her she will never have to ingest the real deal, knowing how to make it look like it is important.

In the midst of trying to take down a drug lord, they must keep up their undercover status. Upon their dealings with the very people they are trying to take down, they sadly, both become addicted to heroin.

Heroin is a highly addictive drug. Whether you use it once or multiple times, there’s a chance for drug dependency and even overdose every time you use it. In this film situation, it shows how people who set out to do good can become overtaken by the drug. Addiction is more than someone using drugs or alcohol. It’s your body’s need for it that results in withdrawal symptoms and cravings that can’t be ignored. Addictive drugs like heroin work quickly and no one is immune to its power.

The Basketball Diaries

Long before Leonardo DiCaprio was “king of the world” in Titanic, he was high school basketball phenom, Jim Carroll, in The Basketball Diaries. The movie, which is based off a book of the same name, follows Jim’s struggle with the pressure from both his coach and mom to perform well in the sport.

He gets caught up hanging out with the wrong crowd and eventually, becomes addicted to heroin. He and his new crew of friends will do anything for their next fix and his basketball future remains in jeopardy. Dealing with the effects of peer pressure as a teen, in addition to stress from the desire to be the best can make people turn to drugs.

Drugs like heroin give you a short-lived high that makes you feel euphoric, happy, and without a care in the world. Unfortunately, the reality is the high is artificial and can result in feelings of the exact opposite like anxiety and depression. The toll that controlled substances takes on the body can be too much to handle. It may seem like the quick solution to problems but it becomes its own bigger one.

Addiction makes it seem like there is no other way to achieve happiness or a sense of calm. If you’ve become addicted to drugs or alcohol, rehabilitation will provide you tools and teachings on how to cope with stress in healthy ways. It will help you identify the root cause of your addiction so you can recognize your triggers in the future.

Requiem for a Dream

This 2000 cult classic is not for the faint of heart. It shows the gruesome and gritty side of drug abuse. With a psychological spin that director Darren Aronofsky is known for, the movie is a series of drug-filled scenes including hallucinations and the overarching theme of addiction/obsession. The screenplay was developed by Aronofsky and the author of the book the movie is based on, Hubert Selby, Jr.

Everyone has a different addiction story. This movies portrays how scary the side effects and consequences of it can be. Because drug addiction can change the physiological makeup of your body, it can make you think, feel, and act in ways you don’t recognize. The effects that drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines have on your body are long lasting and can do permanent damage. Often, addiction is coupled with other mental illnesses that have been undiagnosed or unrecognized in the past. With treatment, you can receive the help you need for a healthier future.

Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling plays middle school teacher, Dan, in 2006’s Half Nelson. From an outside perspective, he’s your average, overworked teacher, but internally, he is battling a cocaine addiction. One of his students, Drey (Shareeka Epps), uncovers his secret. Rather than turning him in, Drey and Dan forge somewhat of a friendship. They both have their own issues with drug use and their stories eventually overlap in an interesting way.

Dan shows what it looks like to have a “functioning addiction.” He is able to hold down a job and live a relatively normal life despite his drug use. However, that way of living is not sustainable. The effects drug and alcohol addiction has in the long-term will lead to devastating health problems. As depicted in this movie, it also leads to various damaging, personal situations that could otherwise be avoided.

When Movies Are Too Close to Real Life

Movies are created to bring the shock and awe factor to an audience. In many cases, the way the stories are depicted are similar to ones people face every day. However, movies about drug addiction and alcoholism are no replacement for real life. Drug and alcohol addiction affect people in a number of ways. It won’t always look like how you imagined it to be.

Your recovery will be personal to you but the process to get there is where the help of others comes is necessary. By going through detox and rehabilitation in a facility familiar with the process, you can feel safe and secure that you will be well taken care of. During your recovery, you’ll better understand your addiction and where it stems from. Identifying your addiction from its root cause is important in order to avoid returning to it in the future. Seek treatment to help fight your addiction because it’s not something you should have to go through alone.

Movies may resemble real life behavior but you know how true it all can really be. Fortunately, there is no one else directing your story. You have control to switch it at any time to be the success and happy ending that you hope it to be.

Find hope. Find recovery. Begin a commitment to lifelong recovery today – for yourself, your friend, or for your loved one.
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