The 10 Best Movies That Deal With Addiction

The subject of addiction is one that has been covered frequently in film history. It sure is a difficult subject to capture in many art forms, but there is something about the visual medium that makes the subject more visceral, personal and powerful. Film provides a way to penetrate a character’s mind or to observe a character from afar, depending on the approach taken. Sometimes movies that depict addiction do a little bit of both.


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The following films are difficult to watch, and while the descriptions here aren’t descriptive, the subject itself can be disturbing to some. They are nonetheless films worth mentioning as addiction is a human condition that affects many in various ways; sometimes as an exercise in empathy, sometimes as a cautionary tale, and sometimes as a bit of both.

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‘Trainspotting’ (1996)

A classic British film that has certainly raised the profile of its star and director, Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor respectively, train spotting is a fast paced, entertaining, sometimes funny, but also deeply disturbing look at a group of friends in Scotland, many of whom are addicted to heroin.

It’s a film that balances multiple tones at once, merging everything into something surprisingly coherent. It’s also notable for being one of the film’s more honest portrayals of drug use, as it lays out with remarkable clarity why some people turn to a substance like heroin and why it’s so difficult to quit. It’s therefore a sensitive and eye-opening film, although it does have some scenes that are quite difficult to watch due to its brutal honesty.

‘Uncut Gems’ (2019)

Rather than looking at a substance addiction or dependence, Unpolished gems uses its intensely intense 135-minute running time to explore a self-destructive gambling addiction in wild, unrelenting detail. It’s hard to watch but admittedly captivating and hard to look away because it’s about a man (Adam Sandler) who leads a life on the brink, constantly dealing with worsening debt and not knowing when to stop.

It’s a kind of modern day tragedy about a protagonist who digs deeper and deeper into a hole for a whole movie. It’s undeniably about the ups and downs of gambling, whether it’s taking risks with money or getting involved with loan sharks, and isn’t afraid to show the consequences of what can come with too much thrill when it comes to finances.

‘Amy’ (2015)

generally speaking, amy is a documentary about the tragically short life of a singer-songwriter Amy Winehousewho died in 2011 at the age of 27. It’s an intimate and heartbreaking film that explores the various substances Winehouse became addicted to, with alcohol ultimately being the cause of her accidental, fatal overdose.

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That alone makes it emotional and impactful, but amy is also a film that casts its net outward over audiences and the general public, suggesting that no one took Winehouse’s struggles seriously enough at the time and that the tabloids written about her and the jokes made at her expense were her personal struggles only more amplified difficult. Not only amy Addiction to confront, but it also shows how much harder it can be to deal with being in the spotlight and living the nightmare of being constantly scrutinized by people who don’t know what you’re really going through.

‘Christian F.’ (1981)

A German film about a girl in her early teens who becomes addicted to heroin and what she has to do to finance her addiction, Christian F is one of the most stirring, harrowing and gritty films of the 1980s…or maybe of all time.

The film makes a masterful use of the pop/rock music of David Bowie (who also has a cameo appearance) to show the vibrancy and energy of young life in the film’s early scenes, only to replace it with some of the musician’s dark, atmospheric tracks, which appear in the film’s desperate second half were used sparingly. A traumatic and difficult watch, but nonetheless a powerful film about something that has impacted – and is still impacting – young people. After all, it was based on a real person.

“The Lost Weekend” (1945)

The Lost Weekend stands as an early example of a film story on the subject of addiction. It shows a man (played by the big ones Ray Milland) who indulges in a big binge over a weekend, depicting in unflinching detail how each drink sends him further down a spiral from which he can’t escape.

It may not be as badass or realistic as some more grounded, recent films that explore addiction, but this was groundbreaking by 1945 standards. It’s won multiple Oscars for its view of alcohol addiction, and it still holds some reasonable power after all these decades.

“The Fire Within” (1963)

in the The fire insidegives the audience an insight into the mind of Alain Leroy. He’s a man who has just left the hospital after being treated for alcohol addiction, and although he’s been “cured” by medical standards, he finds the adjustment to life after addiction boring, tiring, and almost too exhausting to deal with To finish.

Instead of catching a downward spiral into addiction, The fire inside examines the difficulty of what comes after overcoming an addiction. It’s a less explored angle and makes this a unique (but very difficult to watch) film. In depicting a difficult life devoid of joy, the film itself is difficult and contains little to no joy. Definitely not an entertaining film, but definitely an emotional, different and ultimately important one.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

Martin Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that deals with more than one form of addiction. for starters, Jordan Belfort tells the audience through his narration about the different drugs he takes as part of his daily lifestyle. We see how this affects his whole life. While the film can be funny, it ends on a surprisingly harrowing note and could catch audiences expecting humor completely off guard.

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The film also explores the addictive nature of money and power, with Belfort’s relentless quest to ensure that both are very different kinds of addictions. He has been shown to harm himself and others through his desire for ever greater wealth… although for all his criminal activities the film suggests – quite cynically – that he suffered few personal consequences for his wrongdoing and greed .

‘Shame’ (2011)

Steve McQueens cold sad movie about sex addiction, shamealso has one of Michael Fassbenders best performances of his career so far. He lives a fairly solitary life centered around his need for constant sex and has been shown to have a major emotional impact on him and his family.

It’s a difficult film to watch, which in many ways proves just as harrowing as films about addiction that deal with physical substances. That the addiction is purely psychological doesn’t make the addiction any more visible, and the film’s confidence in tackling such a unique subject should (and was) applauded.

‘Oslo, August 31’ (2011)

Bonds from the 1963s The fire insidealthough it is updated for the modern time/audience, Oslo, August 31 is not quite a remake. Because it turns out they’re both inspired by the same 1931 novel. While the 1963 film is about a recently treated alcoholic dealing with life after alcohol, this 2011 film is about a young man being treated for heroin addiction.

The difficulties of connecting with people and finding meaning in a world while sober are portrayed here in gruff, unflinching detail. It shows how easy it is to relapse and how empty life can feel when you’re stuck with no direction. It’s a brutally tough watch, but brilliantly made and acted.

“Requiem for a Dream” (2000)

Requiem for a Dream is a film that makes its villain not an individual or a group of people, but the concept of addiction itself. The film is a stylized, sometimes exaggerated, but still brutal film about how four people’s lives are being shaped by their addiction is altered and influenced by various substances, be it amphetamines or heroin.

Because of its abrasive approach Requiem for a Dream doesn’t always feel like the most balanced or realistic addictive movie. Instead, it aims to show the worst that addiction can do, thereby straying into almost over-the-top nightmarish imagery. However, this approach is also effective in a blunt, shocking way, and when it comes to presenting the message it aims to convey, it is undeniably successful.

NEXT: The ups and downs of how best picture Oscar winner “The Lost Weekend” portrays alcoholism

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Sarah Ridley

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