Hollywood isn’t all glitz and glamour. Since its earliest years, Tinseltown has taken on serious, and sometimes controversial, subjects. For example, the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation” is known for its racist undertones, and the 2002 drama “Enough” is about the physical and psychological toll that domestic violence can have on a person.

In the past, the movie industry has also made films that involve drug or alcohol misuse — a relevant topic today with America amid an opioid epidemic. Some films, such as “Scarface,” glamorize drug use, but other movies, such as “Clean and Sober,” talk about the dangers of addiction and the importance of treatment in learning how to manage a substance use disorder.

Some films about drug or alcohol addiction can be difficult to watch because they detail the realities of substance use disorders, including the physical pains, psychological distress and relationship complications that come with the disease. However, these movies can also educate the general public about the hardships of addiction and inspire people grappling with substance use to seek lifesaving treatment.


The 2002 film “Flight” tells the story of a veteran airline pilot, played by Denzel Washington, who is in the throes of an alcohol addiction. In the movie, a plane piloted by Washington’s character, Whip Whitaker, crashes during a stormy trip from Orlando, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia. While most passengers survive the catastrophe, several do not. Authorities believe Washington may have been inebriated during the flight.

“Flight” conveys some of the struggles that individuals with an alcohol use disorder face, including cravings, triggers, mood swings, denial and relationship complications. The movie was critically acclaimed, and Washington’s performance earned him an Academy Award nomination.

The Basketball Diaries

Released in 1995, “The Basketball Diaries” is about a high school basketball star whose life is derailed by a heroin addiction. The main character, Jim Carroll, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, deals with a serious substance use disorder that causes him to steal and rob in order to use drugs.

The character’s mother grapples with stress caused by her son’s addiction and expresses concern for his substance use — a reality for many families with a loved one dealing with drug or alcohol addiction. The film shows the effects drugs have on teens and how heroin can compromise a promising future.

Requiem for a Dream

In the 2000 film “Requiem for a Dream,” audiences follow the lives of four people experiencing drug addiction. The characters are addicted to everything from amphetamines to heroin. For example, one character misuses stimulants in an effort to lose weight and appear on a game show, but the pills cause her to develop an addiction.

Ultimately, each character’s drug use and inner turmoil leads to a disturbing conclusion to the movie. Director Darren Aronofsky shows how addiction is a disease that can ruin lives. The film exposes how the temporary euphoria of substance use pales in comparison to the physical and psychological problems associated with various drugs.


Released to critical acclaim in 2004, “Ray” is a biographical movie about R&B legend Ray Charles, who overcame blindness, childhood trauma and heroin addiction to become one of the most successful musicians of all time.

In the movie, Ray, played by Jamie Foxx, develops a substance use disorder early in his career, shortly after trying heroin for the first time. His family and friends express concern over his heroin use, and Ray is eventually arrested for drug possession. He is ordered to attend treatment, which helps him learn healthy ways to deal with his substance use. Afterward, he continues his prosperous career.

When a Man Loves a Woman

The effects that alcohol addiction has on an entire family can be seen in the 1994 film “When a Man Loves a Woman.” The main character, Alice, played by Meg Ryan, has been hiding her alcohol use disorder from her family for years. She eventually admits her addiction, seeks rehab and enters recovery. But her husband, Michael, struggles to communicate with his newly sober wife.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” depicts the hardships of alcohol addiction, the dangers of enabling and the importance of treatment. While it details the problems that alcohol misuse has on individuals, it also conveys the emotional hurt that their loved ones face. The film presents themes related to codependency, jealousy and acceptance.

Can Movies About Addiction Reduce Stigma?

Many Americans stigmatize addiction. According to a 2014 survey by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, only 22 percent of respondents said they would work closely with someone experiencing drug addiction, and 64 percent said employers should be able to deny a job to individuals with a substance use disorder.

Stigma can prevent people from seeking treatment. However, movies about the effects of addiction might help people better understand the dangers of the disease, become more sympathetic toward those grappling with substance use, and raise general awareness of substance use disorders. As a result of this awareness, people might be more willing to go to rehab.

Addiction is a treatable disease. If you or a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder, call a representative at The Recovery Village. With safe and secure rehab centers throughout the United States, each facility caters treatment plans to meet a patient’s specific needs. The Recovery Village treats substance use disorders like heroin misuse and alcohol addiction alongside co-occurring disorders like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Make the call and begin your recovery today.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.