Were you inspired by a movie to get help for an addiction?
There have been many movies made on the topic of addiction and movies made about drug addicts. Some movies focus on recovery from addiction, while others are more focused on the tragedy of active addiction itself.
Why do filmmakers decide to make films about addiction? What is it about this particular mental health condition that fascinates them?
Most likely, it is the way that a person who seems to function normally in almost every other way has lost control over alcohol or drug use. People are interested in watching films about how a person’s life can unravel due to their own uncontrollable behavior.
Another reason why producers and directors find the topic interesting is that addiction is pervasive in Hollywood. It almost seems like actors, actresses, musicians, and other artists at the top of the entertainment industry are more likely to become addicted than anyone else.
It is not surprising to see a higher rate of addiction in these high performing artists. Creative and intelligent people tend to have a higher risk for addiction, and performers talented enough to be in well-known films are likely to fit this description.
What is the best movie to watch before getting started in recovery?
The 1988 film, “Clean and Sober”, has inspired many people to start their journey of recovery from drugs or alcohol. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Michael Keaton, Morgan Freeman, and others, the film tells the story of a man on the run with a cocaine addiction who tries to hide out in rehab. He eventually comes to terms with his addiction and becomes dedicated to the recovery process.
Interestingly, there is a character in the film, named Iris, who is played by actress, Claudia Christian. While not one of the main characters, Iris is featured in several key scenes of the movie.
Ms. Christian, many years later, became addicted to alcohol and went through a difficult period of her life where she went to rehab and found that it did not work as expected to help her stay alcohol-free.
She eventually discovered another solution to recovering from alcohol use disorder, The Sinclair Method (TSM). TSM is a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and harm reduction. The medication, naltrexone, is used to help a TSM patient reduce their alcohol intake and eventually quit.
In fact, Claudia Christian produced her own film, “One Little Pill”, which is a documentary about The Sinclair Method. It is one of the best movies about alcoholism and effective medical treatment for alcohol use disorder. She takes viewers on a journey, where they learn about how the method was discovered and studied, and how people are finding success with it around the world.
Interestingly, she also shows how the multi-billion-dollar rehab industry in the United States has demonstrated little interest in this highly effective treatment. Many rehab owners and staff have resisted medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction as well, even though the evidence in its favor is well accepted by top addiction experts.
“One Little Pill” includes some brief clips from “Clean And Sober.” While you might find some scenes in “Clean and Sober” to be inspiring, especially when Morgan Freeman tells Michael Keaton in the bathroom “how it works,” “One Little Pill” is an excellent movie to watch as a practical guide to starting The Sinclair Method.
What are the favorite top movies about drug addiction that award-winning filmmakers love to recommend?
A while back, on my podcast, The Rehab, I interviewed award-winning filmmaker, Christopher Emmons. The reason we ended up doing that interview was that his representatives thought it would be a good idea since he had directed a short film, Prone, that involved a man addicted to pills who relapsed over a woman he was attracted to in his recovery group who was not attracted to him.
During our discussion, we talked about many topics relating to filmmaking and the creative process. We also talked about films on the topic of addiction and which ones he most recommended.
The first is an Australian film named, “Candy.” It is described as a romantic drama and stars Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, and Geoffrey Rush. The story is about a girl who falls in love with a boy with a heroin addiction.
Heath Ledger plays Dan, a poet addicted to heroin, and Abbie Cornish plays Candy, an art student. Heroin addiction eventually takes over both of their lives, leading them to a life of borrowing money, stealing, and prostitution.
Another film recommended by Mr. Emmons is “The Panic in Needle Park.” While also a romantic drama involving heroin use, this older film from 1971, starring Al Pacino, is a gritty film featuring street heroin use in New York City.
Director Jerry Schatzberg, was determined to make the film show intravenous heroin use in a very realistic manner. They studied heroin users in the hospital and morgues to study track marks, and they had a nurse on set to help with the realism of actors injecting themselves. Schatzberg also decided to not have a musical score behind the film.
Are there connections between art and life when it comes to films about addiction?
In the two films mentioned previously, there are some interesting connections to real life. Heath ledger’s cause of death was acute combined drug intoxication. He was taking two opioids and three benzodiazepines simultaneously while trying to fight off a respiratory infection.
While people close to Ledger do not describe him as being addicted, he did have a problem with getting to sleep. Similarly to Michael Jackson, Ledger was always trying to find ways to get to sleep, taking multiple prescription medications.
After Ledger’s death, there was an investigation into the source of his pills. Few doctors would prescribe the combination of medications he was taking. As it turned out, they were unable to determine the source of the medications that, in combination, led to his death.
Interestingly, while Al Pacino got the main role in “The Panic in Needle Park,” the filmmakers were considering music star Jim Morrison for the part. Jim Morrison died the same year that the film was released. If Morrison had taken the role, he would have starred in the film posthumously, similarly to Heath Ledger and his role as the Joker.
Jim Morrison was known to use drugs and alcohol heavily during his music career. When he died, his death certificate stated that it was due to natural causes. Of course, this is unlikely for a healthy 27-year-old. There are many theories about his real cause of death, including a possible heroin overdose.
What are some other top movies about drug addiction?
“Trainspotting” is a 1996 film classified as a black comedy and drama. The film covers the familiar territory of heroin addiction, including HIV/AIDS, needle use, overdose, and rehab.
This British film takes place in a poor section of Edinburgh. The story follows a group of people struggling with heroin addiction and many of the problems that come along with it.
“My Name is Bill W.” is a made-for-television film about William Griffith Wilson, also known as Bill W. The film stars James Woods and James Garner as the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
There are many idealized accounts of the founding of AA. While the AA program works very well for many people, it has become so pervasive in the world of addiction treatment, that it has, in some ways, held back progress.
Because of the efforts of Bill Wilson and Robert Smith, also known as Dr. Bob, the program grew to be the largest addiction recovery organization in the world. Many drug addiction treatment programs in the US base their programs on the workings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Rehab clients meet together regularly for group meetings, similarly to AA meetings, and professional 12-step facilitators work to introduce them to the AA program. Actual AA meetings are also an integral part of many rehab programs. Clients are often told that the only path to recovery is long-term dedication to AA or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), a related 12-step program.
What is the most exciting of all films about drug addiction?
It is difficult to describe the degradation associated with drug use as being exciting. While there are tense scenes in these drug movies involving attempts at reversing an overdose, or running from the police, overall, the mood of addiction films is dark and somber.
One example of an addiction-related movie that starts with one of the most exciting scenes in almost any movie is Flight. This 2012 movie stars Denzel Washington as an airline pilot with an alcohol and cocaine addiction.
Early in the film, Washington, after a night of drinking and using drugs, goes to work as pilot of a major airline. In the cockpit, he continues to drink and passes out while the co-pilot flies the plane.
Because of a defect in the plane itself, the flight nearly ends in disaster when the plane goes out of control during flight and the co-pilot is unable to regain control. The drunken and high pilot wakes up from his stupor and his expertise takes over to deal with the emergency situation.
Washington’s character turns out to be, besides having drug and alcohol addictions, a highly gifted pilot. In a scene rivaling some of the most exciting flying scenes in any movie, he flies the large airliner upside down at low altitudes.
He is able to crash-land safely in a field, but unfortunately, six people die in the crash. The deaths lead to an investigation in which Washington has the choice in the end to be honest or keep his drug and alcohol use a secret.
It is made clear in the film that his flying skill did not in any way lead to the six deaths. In fact, they state that other pilots flying the same flight in simulation killed every single passenger with every attempt. Airline executives are able to cover for him and the choice of revealing his addiction problem is up to him in the end.
Are there other realistic portrayals of rehab in movies about drug addiction?
Similarly to “Clean and Sober,” there is a 2000 movie named “28-days,” starring Sandra Bullock. Unlike “Clean and Sober,” this film is a comedy-drama.
During the film, Bullock, who plays an alcoholic woman named Gwen, is in denial about her addiction problem. After a car accident, she is confronted with the choice of going to rehab or jail. Of course, she chooses rehab.
When she goes to rehab in the movie, Bullock deals with the usual issues of rehab, similarly to the Michael Keaton film. At first, she is in denial about her alcohol addiction, and she does not want to go to group meetings.
Eventually, she comes to accept her condition and how it connects to her family history. Therapy sessions help her to recall memories of her mother who died of an overdose.
During “28-days,” we meet the usual cast of characters who you might find in any rehab facility. There is the director who is himself recovered from drug and alcohol addiction. Also, there are various residents of all ages who have different addiction problems.
Are all good movies about drugs and recovery about cocaine, opioid or alcohol addiction?
Addiction to alcohol and addiction to opioids are, by far, the two deadliest of addictions. Because these two addictions are known to often lead to tragedy, they make movie plots that appeal to producers and directors.
However, there have been movies that feature addiction to other drugs. Besides alcohol and opioids, another major category of drugs of abuse is stimulants. These drugs include everything from crack and powder cocaine to amphetamine pills and crystal meth, or methamphetamine.
While there are movies about crack dealing, such as “Clockers,” a Spike Lee film, and the television show, “Breaking Bad,” which celebrated meth production, There are not as many films about stimulant addiction itself. Cocaine often appears in conjunction with alcohol in movies. In fact, in real life, many cocaine addicts are also alcoholics. Alcohol use often triggers their cocaine use.
“Beautiful Boy” is a 2018 movie, starring Steve Carrell as the father, about a father and son relationship strained by the son’s methamphetamine addiction. While heroin use does come up in the movie, it is clear that meth is the drug of choice. This may be one of the best recovery movies on Netflix.
The movie portrays the problem of drug relapse accurately. While many movies about addiction focus on drug use or the rehab lifestyle, “Beautiful Boy” is mostly about how, even after extended drug-free periods, relapse can always happen again.
Carrell, as the father, is determined to help his son, even having a consultation with a top expert in the field of stimulant addiction. He gets his son into rehab and then supports his college and career aspirations.
Unfortunately, Nic, the son, has repeated relapses throughout the film. At one point, his father gives up on him and wants nothing to do with him anymore.
Carrell’s giving up on his son and wanting to distance himself from him is realistic. In treating patients with addiction locally, we often find that a patient’s parents live far away and do not want to have daily involvement in their child’s life anymore.
Of course, they still love their child and want the best for them, but they no longer want to experience the ups and downs of the cycle of relapse and recovery. Some parents may even come to terms with the possibility that their child may not survive their addiction, waiting for news of the inevitable.
Why do filmmakers want to profit by making drug addiction films?
Interestingly, it seems that there is not a lot of profit in the addiction film genre. While there are many movies on the subject, many more than listed here, few, if any, make a lot of money at the box office.
In fact, some movies listed here made less money at the box office than the budget that was spent in making the movie. The film studio and investors lost money in making those films.
“Clean and Sober” lost nearly $3.5 million. “28-days” made about $20 million over its budget, which is not that great for a film starring leading actress Sandra Bullock. For comparison, her film, “Speed,” six years earlier made nearly 12 times its budget at the box office, totaling over $350 million.
As you can see, action thrillers are more popular with the movie-going public than addiction movies. There are several possible reasons for this to be true.
The stigma of addiction is one possible answer. People who have not experienced drug addiction cannot relate to it and often do not understand what it is like to experience obsessions with drugs and the compulsion to keep using drugs, even when the user is fully aware of causing self-harm.
Many people believe that addiction is a moral deficiency leading to criminal activity. They believe that drug addicts should be locked up and not allowed to try going to rehab. Some people even believe that life-saving naloxone should not be made available to people addicted to heroin and that medication-assisted treatment is simply replacing one addiction with another.
Another possible reason why people do not want to watch addiction movies is that it is painful to watch people suffer with addiction.This may be especially true for family members of people who have struggled with addiction or people who themselves have been addicted.
It is not easy to watch a movie about a person’s life spiraling out of control because of their own actions which they are unable to control. It is especially difficult to watch someone who is successful in every other way and has everything going for them in life, throw it all away just to get high one more time.
What will the best drug addiction movies in the future be about?
Claudia Christian was on the right track, making a film about medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism. We need more movies featuring effective treatments and putting them in a positive light.
Also, we need movies about harm reduction and how it benefits individual drug users and all society. Rather than showing the degrading lives of heroin users in love, why not show the positive relationships formed with counselors at a supervised consumption center?
A supervised consumption facility is a place where drug users can use drugs in a safe, controlled environment. Sterile supplies, such as needles, syringes, and more, are supplied. Drugs are tested for impurities, such as fentanyl analogs.
And, overdoses are prevented by attentive staff who advise visitors on safer drug use and also are prepared with tools such as oxygen and Narcan. Maybe most importantly, the staff is able to get to know visitors and form relationships and gain their trust. When a drug user is ready to give up their drugs and change their lives, they have trusted people ready willing to help.
While these centers do not exist currently in the US, they are proving to be successful in other countries, such as Canada. Why not make more addiction films about the positive aspects of addiction treatment and harm reduction?
Also, medications, such as Suboxone, ZubSolv, and Bunavail, as well as the injectable forms, Sublocade and Brixadi, work very well to help patients quit opioids long-term. There has been a significant stigma associated with these prescription medications.
Even doctors have been known to discourage patients from continuing on successful medication-assisted treatment with Suboxone. Why not make a positive film featuring the success of Suboxone in changing someone’s life for the better? In reality Suboxone, and other buprenorphine-based medications are already making a huge, positive improvement for many people.
There are so many great ideas for future addiction movies where great stories can be told, while at the same time, conveying positive messages about the current state of harm reduction strategies and medical addiction treatment.