Addiction comes in many forms: alcoholism, drug abuse, even workaholism can be forms of addiction. It’s no surprise it’s at the root of many great films. Movies about those struggling with addiction, whether they focus on the main character or their loved ones forced to deal with them, are about a difficult and fraught human experience.
Here are 15 movies about addiction, ranging from seeing it unravel lives in real-time to dealing with the devastating effects it has on loved ones:
1. Four Good Days (2020)
This mother-daughter drama starring Glenn Close and Mila Kunis is inspired by the Washington Post story, “How’s Amanda? A Story of Truth, Lies and an American Addiction.”
Mila Kunis plays Molly, a longtime addict who comes to her mother Deb, played by Glenn Close, swearing to get sober this time. The film follows Molly’s repeated attempts at sobriety and the lingering effects on her relationship with her parents, who frequently worry they are enabling her. It’s a powerful, and at times heartbreaking, tale of the devastating effects addiction has on families.
2. A Star Is Born (2018)
This critically-acclaimed drama hit a lot of right notes with people—it was nominated for 8 Oscars and garnered plenty of praise for its two leading actors, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
The film follows a struggling, alcoholic musician and the rising star he falls in love with. The two face mental illness and work difficulties while trying to take care of each other along the way
3. Clean and Sober (1988)
Michael Keaton stars as a real estate agent who quickly loses control of his life to his cocaine addiction, embezzling thousands of dollars from his company and forcing himself into a rehab center to hide from authorities.
While many films touch on addiction, this film stands out for how it depicts recovery, which can be depressing and feel impossible, but ultimately, the film argues, very necessary.
4. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
This critically-acclaimed film paints an intense picture of the effect of long-term drug use among a group of friends who travel the country robbing drugstores to support their habits.
Based on an autobiographical novel by James Fogle, the film has a surprising 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Rachel Getting Married (2008)
Rachel Getting Married features Anne Hathaway’s powerful performance of addict Kym, who comes home from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding with chaotic results.
Addiction is multi-faceted: Even when sober, the effects it has on families can still be felt throughout, made evident by not only Kym’s fabrications about her addiction but her deep-rooted desire to get better.
6. Phantom Thread (2017)
Workaholism, when pushed too far, can be just as addictive as drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors. When coupled with the desire to avoid personal problems, or fixate so heavily on “working hard” that it proves detrimental to other aspects of your life, you have a problem with many of the same undercurrents as addiction.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion designer in 1950s London who is obsessive about his work. The film follows his career as he meets Alma, a waitress with whom he quickly starts a relationship. But Woodcock’s obsessive work ethic continues to cause issues in his life and is often the root of many of his problems.
7. 28 Days (2000)
Sandra Bullock plays an alcoholic faced with either jail or rehab after a car accident. She joins a 28-day recovery program and begins to slowly reconcile with her family, especially her sister, who harbors a lot of anger and resentment toward her after dealing with her alcoholism. Bullock’s character also begins friendships with other members of the program, allowing her to see life outside of her addiction.
8. Flight (2012)
This film, loosely based on the real-life Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash, follows an airplane pilot who is forced to make a controlled crash landing when his plane experiences a mechanical failure. Though hailed as a hero, Captain Whip Whitacre faces scrutiny when it’s revealed he was intoxicated at the time of the crash and struggles with drug addiction.
Ultimately, Denzel Washington’s performance of a troubled man attempting, and eventually succeeding, in doing the right thing is a hopeful tale, while showing the difficulty of the path forward for someone struggling with addiction.
9. Rocketman (2019)
Though billed as a “fantasy musical drama,” the heart of this biographical film is Elton John’s journey through addiction. It follows John’s early days as a musician struggling with addiction of several kinds, and opens with him walking into a rehab center as an adult.
Elton John’s story, in all its flash and flamboyance, is intrinsically human, an important thing to remember when facing addiction.
10. When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)
If you’re looking for a frank, honest look at what alcoholism does to a marriage, look no further than this classic featuring Meg Ryan alongside Andy Garcia.
Alice is a mother of two and wife to an airline pilot. She struggles repeatedly with alcoholism until a dangerous incident forces her and her family to come to terms with her addiction. While Meg Ryan shines as Alice, the film is equally about her husband, Michael, who struggles to understand and support his wife through her sobriety journey. Honest and real, this film illustrates just how difficult alcohol addiction can make a marriage.
11. Beautiful Boy
The 2018 biographical drama, Beautiful Boy, is based on the memoirs Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff. The story details what happens when a man’s teenage son goes missing, reappearing days later and showing obvious signs of drug abuse. Their journey is a difficult one filled with highs and lows and bouts of treatment followed by relapse; however, Beautiful Boy shows the very real and terrifying results of addiction and substance use disorder.
12. Requiem for a Dream
Many people know Requiem for a Dream as the psychological drama directed by Darren Aronofsky. Based on a novel by the same name, Requiem depicts the ways that four different characters are impacted by substance use disorder, paying close attention to the ways that drugs and other substances can alter people’s physical and emotional health. While the film lacks a happy or tidy ending, it does take an interesting deep dive into the way people’s perceptions and realities can be overpowered by paranoia and delusion.
13. The Anonymous People
This ground-breaking feature documentary is about the nearly 24 million Americans who are living in long-term recovery from addiction. The Anonymous People is invested in making silent voices heard, knowing full well that they’ve historically been censored due to stigma, sensational media, and lurid public fascination. The public health condition of addiction is preventable and treatable, and this moving documentary gives a voice and face to the courageous people who believe in transparency and recovery.
14. Perfect High
In Perfect High, a sweet, self-proclaimed “good girl” is introduced to prescription drugs following a dance injury. As the film progresses, she makes new friends who convince her to participate in prescription drug-sharing. What starts out as a bit of rebellious fun soon devolves into a life-altering heroin addiction. You might consider this film a modern cautionary tale.
15. A Million Little Pieces
The film A Million Little Pieces tells the story of a 23-year-old man who misuses alcohol and other drugs. It follows him on his journey from rock bottom to rehabilitation and a twelve-step oriented treatment approach. While some viewers may not appreciate the gruesome nature of the movie, and there have been legitimate questions about its validity as a “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces does indeed detail what a journey through substance use disorder and subsequent recovery could look like.
When to Get Help for Addiction
Whether you or someone you know struggles with drugs, alcohol, or other addictions, you are not alone, and there are people who can help. Therapy is often part of a robust addiction program or can help you make sense of the experiences you had with an addicted loved one. When you’re ready, find a therapist in your area.