Most people’s perceptions of addiction come from the most extreme cases that they hear about in news reports; however, this doesn’t give an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to live in the throes of active addiction. Instead, these reports inspire more judgement and discrimination rather than empathy and understanding. While the news may be biased when it comes to addiction, there have been countless films that have portrayed the variety of ways that a substance abuse problem can affect one’s life. Therefore, the following are eight great movies that portray what it’s like to be an addict, each of which are available to stream now on services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and iTunes.
Trainspotting (1996) — 94 minutes — R
When one asks a person to name a movie about addiction, he or she will more than likely choose Trainspotting. Although it’s technically billed as a black comedy, there’s little more than slapstick jokes to laugh at when watching this British adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name. Starring Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, and a number of less-known familiar faces, Trainspotting is set in economically-depressed Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1980s, following a group of heroin addicts as their substance abuse puts them in increasingly demented situations. This is a film that portrays heroin addiction in its most bleak form, causing friends to turn on each other as heroin use puts the characters in increasingly demented situations. Recently, a poll named Trainspotting the best Scottish film of all time.
Candy (2006) — 108 minutes — R
Headlined by Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, Candy is a quaint, artistic indie film that chronicles an intense romance budding between a heroin addict and a girl named Candy. Captivated by his bohemian lifestyle, Candy jumps into his world with both feet. As the film progresses, one wonders whether the two young lovers are more addicted to each other or to heroin. The development of their relationship is punctuated at turns by alternating states of cuteness and self-destructive oblivion, which is an interesting juxtaposition. Like a play, Candy is organized into three acts: Heaven, Earth, and Hell, suggesting the decline in their relationship as well as the worsening of their addictions.
Rachel Getting Married (2008) — 113 minutes — R
There are a few roles that people readily associate with Anne Hathaway, but her performance in Rachel Getting Married isn’t likely to be one of them. It’s not that her performance as a drug-addicted young woman who’s released from drug rehab for a couple days to attend her sister’s wedding was bad; despite earning Hathaway an Academy Award nomination, it doesn’t seem that many people watched the film. There are many poignant, thoughtful moments in the film that portray some of the more easily overlooked aspects of addiction, including when it’s discovered that Kym was making up stories about her molestation so that she wouldn’t have to take responsibility for her substance abuse. Overall, it’s a powerful film and will surely resonate with many.
Flight (2012) — 138 minutes — R
It seems that any film with Denzel Washington attached turns to gold, but Flight would be noteworthy even within the award-winning actor in the lead role. Joined by the likes of Don Cheadle and John Goodman, Flight is about a commercial airline pilot who’s a bit of a lush and recreational drug enthusiast saving an entire flight from certain doom. Although the scene in which the pilot is flying the plane upside-down in order to keep it in the air will stick with you, Flight really shines in its portrayal of the addict’s mindset, particularly when it comes to knowing just how destructive one’s habits have become yet being unable to control oneself. There are also few films that capture the antihero as effectively as Flight; despite being an alcoholic and addict, you can’t help but root for him, which is why the ending has made many throw their hands up and shout in surprise.
The Panic in Needle Park (1971) — 110 minutes — R
In the Upper West Side of New York City, the area between 72nd Street and Broadway is formally known as Sherman Square, but the junkies and addicts in the area refer to it as Needle Park. The Panic in Needle Park marks the first of many times Al Pacino would play a leading man, but here it’s in a disconcerting love story. Pacino plays Bobby, a charismatic addict who meets Helen (Kitty Winn), a restless girl from the right side of the tracks finding herself drawn to Bobby and his dark world. As they grow closer, Helen develops her own addiction while Bobby continues to spiral downward, resulting in a number of shocking betrayals and bleak discoveries that test the young lovers’ resolve. For her portrayal, Winn won Best Actress at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival where The Panic in Needle Park also received the prestigious Palme d’Or. It’s also believed to be the first mainstream film that featured actual intravenous drug injection.
Spun (2002) — 101 minutes — R
Equal parts dark comedy, drama, and crime film, Spun was the directorial debut of Jonas Åkerlund who had previously only made music videos. The film featured an ensemble cast that included Jason Schwartzman, John Leguizamo, Mena Suvari, Patrick Fugit, Alexis Arquette, Brittany Murphy, Debbie Harry, and Mickey Rourke among others. The film’s title comes from the term used by many substance abusers for how they feel after being awake for several days due to being on a meth binge. Spun notably takes cues from similar films like Requiem for a Dream, featuring a number of individuals whose lives are connected in some way, which in this case is due to being involved with a crystal methamphetamine ring.
Smashed (2012) — 81 minutes — R
After excelling in a number of recent supporting roles, Mary Elizabeth Winstead headlines Smashed with Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), telling the tale of married alcoholics Kate and Charlie Hannah and the series of unfortunate incidents that are brought on by their substance abuse. The film notably begins with Winstead’s character arriving to work as an elementary school teacher; however, she’s so hungover from the previous night’s drinking that she vomits in front of her class. Unsure of how to explain herself, one of her students asks if she’s pregnant, to which she says that she is. After continuing to experience troubles brought on by her drinking, a coworker encourages her to get sober, which puts a major strain on her marriage. Smashed is a very real and believable portrait of how a substance abuse problem affects your average, middle-class person such as a school teacher rather than junkies on the street like other films. In effect, this makes the plights of the characters more relatable even to those who haven’t personally experienced addiction and substance abuse problems.
Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded (2014) — 152 minutes — R
Most people have at least heard of the documentary film Cocaine Cowboys, which portrayed the introduction and escalation of cocaine use in America via the Florida drug trade and ensuing Miami drug war of the 1970s and 1980s. Cocaine Cowboys used interviews with journalists, lawyers, police officers, and even drug smugglers and former gang members to illustrate the crime wave that resulted from cocaine and drugs in Miami. With the more recent Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded, the film has been expanded upon with additional footage and material that hasn’t before been told, including the story of Griselda Blanco, details regarding the Medellín Cartel, accounts told by former hitman Jorge ‘Rivi’ Ayala and former smuggler Mickey Munday, and lots of other content that extends the film to almost 40 minutes longer than its original length.
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Despite the countless movies about addiction that humanize those who suffer from chemical dependency, it’s almost impossible to truly understand what it’s like to be in the throes of active addiction. However, if you or someone you love would like to learn more about addiction treatment and recovery, call Drug Treatment Center Finder for a free consultation and assessment at 855-619-8070. Begin a life of health and happiness by speaking with one of our recovery specialists today.