Movies That Accurately Portray Addiction & Abuse

Movies have the potential to display real aspects of life on the big screen. Some of the more complex struggles, however, must be handled with care. Addiction, for example, is a topic that has been explored in books and on-screen for decades. Substance abuse and alcoholism affects people all around the world in different ways, which makes it tricky to depict on film. It is very easy for people who have never experienced addiction to stigmatize the condition or make unfair assumptions about it. Poor portrayals of addiction can make those with substance abuse issues feel ashamed, and can ultimately keep people from getting the help they deserve.

Accurate depictions of addiction in film, on the other hand, can be extremely helpful when it comes to raising awareness about substance abuse. Some movies, like the ones on this list, have the potential to convey the hardships of addiction in a way that is understandable, sensitive, and relatable. Even though movies like this may not make change overnight, these portrayals will hopefully get us one step closer to eliminating the stigma of addiction for good.


Movies About Addiction and Alcoholism

The movies below tackle the topic of addiction in a tasteful and truthful way. They all have very different casts of characters with varying addictions, which shows that this disease can affect absolutely anyone at any point in their lives. While the outcomes of these films range from optimistic to unfortunate, each plot tells a realistic tale about the struggles of addiction.

Here are six of the most realistic films about drug addiction, gambling addiction, and alcoholism:

Beautiful Boy (2018)

Starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet, Beautiful Boy is based on a series of memoirs by Nicolas Sheff. Sheff, who battled with meth addiction during his youth, wrote these works to depict the turmoil and emotional toll that drugs can create in familial relationships. The film allows audiences to feel empathy for both the main character Nicolas (Chalamet), who struggles with addiction, and his father (Carrell), who is trying his hardest to help his son. One of the most notable lessons of this film is that addiction does not discriminate based on having money or stability – it can influence even the most privileged of individuals.


Requiem for A Dream (2000)

This film depicts how addiction can derail a person’s life. Requiem for A Dream follows four interconnected characters, all of whom struggle with some sort of substance abuse; one is addicted to diet pills, and the three others use black tar heroin. All of the characters have high aspirations and a lot of potential, but they use substances to fill an emotional void. While they are all ambitious and have big plans, their dreams are crushed as they are led down the dark path of addiction.


Trainspotting (1996)

This popular 90s movie, starring Ewan McGregor, follows a group of friends who use heroin as a way to escape. Trainspotting, though heartbreaking and hard to watch at times, shows the harsh reality of living with an addiction and repeatedly trying to quit. Withdrawal and relapse scenes send the message that even if someone wants to stop using drugs, getting clean isn’t as easy as it may seem.


Half Nelson (2006)

While this movie may not be as mainstream as the others, it certainly packs a punch. In Half Nelson, Ryan Gosling stars as a public school teacher who is addicted to crack cocaine. He forms a close relationship with one of his students, who expresses that he is considering working for a drug dealer. The story eventually comes full circle when the main character runs into this student and has a decision to make. Unlike some of the other films on this list, it has a somewhat optimistic outcome.


Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems is the only movie on this list that portrays the dangers and consequences of living with a gambling addiction. This cautionary tale follows Howard Ratnor (played by Adam Sandler), who is addicted to sports betting and will put anything on the line to win. The film, which has been coined as a “two-hour anxiety attack,” immerses audiences in the stress and chaos that come as a result of Ratnor’s actions. Since gambling is sometimes not considered a serious addiction, this film was created to raise awareness and explore its impact on relationships.

By watching these films, those with addictions and their loved ones may be able to better understand what the other is going through. They may be tough to watch, especially if your family has been impacted by addiction, but these movies could ultimately give people the motivation and the push they need to reach out and get help.