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Substance abuse can destroy your life. The possession, use, and sale of drugs can be both dangerous and illegal.
In spite of this, many people still become addicted to them.
In this article, we provide you with a list of movies that can help you understand the dangers of drug use and addiction.
These 31 movies about drug addiction help explain drug abuse and why addicts gamble their lives away in pursuit of the ultimate high.
You may or may not agree with some of the lessons from these movies, but they are worth watching if you want to better understand drug use and addiction.
Let’s check them out!
1. Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream is one of the darkest movies ever made about the dangers of drug addiction. It can be quite disturbing if you are not used to these kinds of films.
However, there is no denying the film’s value. From the story and characters to the directing and cinematography, the film perfectly portrays what it means to be addicted. Imagine living a life where you can’t function without your drug—even though it distorts your world, making it hard for you to discern reality from fantasy.
This movie is definitely a must-watch, especially if you want to know more about how drugs can affect your mind.
Trainspotting delves into the shared experiences of drug users. It depicts the relationships and community that can spring up around the drug culture. However, the film also shows the dark side of drug use.
We recommend this film if you are looking for a dark comedy about drug use.
3. Basketball Diaries
Basketball Diaries is the real-life story of a man by the name of Jim Carroll. Jim was a poet, author, and punk music rockstar. If you are a fan of his, you know that he was addicted to heroin, and it almost ruined his life. The movie is based on his 1978 autobiography.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this movie focuses on the recovery process for those who are addicted to drugs. It accurately illustrates the dangers of drug addiction, but it also portrays the beauty of recovery once you acknowledge and work through your substance dependence.
Traffic is a great choice if you are looking for a heavy, realistic depiction of the drug trade. It doesn’t preach or force its beliefs on you. Rather, it simply shows what happens in the everyday life of a drug addict.
That being said, the film does reflect the director’s take on drugs. Steven Soderbergh believes that drug addiction is not a crime, but rather a public health problem. As such, drug addicts should not be treated as criminals. They should be seen as people who need mental and emotional support.
5. Drugstore Cowboy
Roger Ebert described this film in this way: “I feel bad, and drugs make me feel good, although they are also why I feel bad. But since they make me feel good now, and bad later, I will worry about later when the time comes.”
Drugstore Cowboy helps its viewers understand that drug addicts are not bad people, but rather sick people. We highly suggest this film if you want to understand how addicting drugs can be. This film will also help you learn to treat drug addicts with empathy instead of contempt and pity.
6. Beautiful Boy
Starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell, this is the story of a father and a son who go through the challenges surrounding drug addiction and recovery.
Beautiful Boy is inspired by a true story and shows how a father will do whatever it takes to save his son. It also portrays the triggers that cause young people to turn to drugs and other substances.
This movie may be one of the best films to watch as a family if you want to better understand the danger and pain of drug use. We highly recommend that you watch it with your children while explaining to them the dangers of drugs.
Scarface stars Al Pacino as Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who becomes a drug lord in Miami. While his character is far from a “good guy,” he has personality traits that many of us can relate to.
Involvement with drugs can happen for many reasons, including the desire for wealth and power. The question is, are you willing to trade your soul for a life of luxury?
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
If you are into trading stocks, then you likely know who Jordan Belfort is. For those who don’t, Belfort got involved in a penny-stock scam involving a lot of wealthy people and eventually became a prosperous stockbroker himself.
Unfortunately, Belfort ended up in jail for almost two years. He eventually made a deal with the government, providing evidence against his partner and associates.
The film is mostly about Belfort’s activities in the stock market, but it also portrays how his drug addiction and desire for wealth affected his way of life.
Blow does not tackle the dangers of drug addiction. Instead, it dives deep into the dangers of dealing drugs. While the drugs themselves can be addicting, the money they bring can also become an addiction, as we learn from George Jung, played by Johnny Depp.
Jung never planned on becoming a drug dealer. He just wanted money so he wouldn’t struggle like his father. But his pursuit of wealth eventually led him to the dangerous life of a drug dealer.
We suggest this movie if you want to understand how dealing cocaine can make you feel empty, even while it makes you rich.
10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Here’s another Johnny Depp movie, in which he plays alongside Benicio del Toro. This film tackles all sorts of drugs, including LSD and ecstasy. It also explores the question of how you can escape Sin City when what it offers is a life full of distorted reality and endless reverie?
Some critics say that this film glorifies and encourages drug use, while others argue that it shows the negative sides of psychedelics. Personally, we think the film is a piece of art.
11. Easy Rider
This movie is a Hollywood classic. It stars Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as two friends making their way to New Orleans for a fun time and a drug deal. The film is full of revolutionary themes like sex, drugs, and rock and roll. They actually used real drugs in some of the scenes.
The film also explores the dangers of drugs and the drug culture/lifestyle. It is one of Hollywood’s earliest accurate portrayals of drug use.
In the movie Cherry, Tom Holland plays Army veteran Nico Walker. His acting is exemplary, and he does a great job of depicting the struggles that come with PTSD. The film also shows how PTSD can become worse with opioids and other forms of addiction.
This is a great portrayal of how mental illness and drug use are related and the dangers that come when the two intersect.
We highly recommend watching Cherry, which is available on Apple TV. You can also read the semi-autobiography by Nico Walker, which is similarly detailed and heartfelt.
13. 28 Days
Sandra Bullock gives an outstanding performance in the film 28 Days. As a woman forced to go to rehab due to alcohol addiction, she struggles to accept that she has a problem. She finds it hard to recover because she is not yet ready to let go of her addiction.
At the same time, she also makes it hard for the people who love her to help her heal.
This movie focuses on alcohol, which many people do not realize is another type of drug. Alcohol is extremely addictive and actually kills more people each year than any other illicit substance.
Flight tells the story of a pilot who is celebrated for saving his passengers during a crash, but who eventually is revealed to have been drunk during the incident. The film is a great study in the struggles of those who are addicted to alcohol, and how that addiction can severely impact one’s life.
Oscar winner Denzel Washington gives yet another amazing performance in this film, which is a must-see based on his acting skills alone.
Needle Park was a nickname for Sherman Square in Manhattan, where a group of drug addicts spent their days slipping in and out of drug-addled fantasies.
This film stars Al Pacino as Bobby, a heroin addict who falls in love with Helen, played by Kitty Winn. Helen also begins using drugs and betrayals arise as their addictions become worse.
The Panic in Needle Park focuses on love and drugs—how the use of illegal substances can affect your relationships with other people. It also portrays how hard it can be to break an addiction and stop using.
Sid and Nancy is the real-life story of the Sex Pistols’ front man, Sid Vicious, and his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.
Sid wakes up one day to find his girlfriend’s body lying on the floor of a hotel room. He is accused of murder, but is unable to tell the police what had happened. Evidence later shows that Nancy’s death was likely accidental, although the ending is left up to the viewer’s interpretation.
The film depicts how drug use can negatively affect relationships and careers, and ultimately ruin and even end your life. Actors Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb put in great performances as the ill-fated lovers.
17. Clean and Sober
Clean and Sober brings us the story of a man battling alcohol and cocaine addiction. He has a good life as a successful real estate agent but can’t bring himself to admit that he needs help to recover. He refuses to admit his illness and turns away any offers to help him.
This is a great movie to watch if you are trying to understand the detrimental effects of drugs on the mind, body, and soul.
18. Permanent Midnight
In Permanent Midnight, Jerry Stahl is a television series writer. He loves to make people laugh with his comedies, but behind this talent hides a secret: his drug addiction. As a writer and artist, he believes that he needs this addiction to help him work.
We recommend this movie if you want to understand how it feels like for a drug addict to undergo withdrawal symptoms. As Stahl experiences in this film, ending your dependence on a substance can be a painful and difficult experience.
Angelina Jolie gives us a wonderful performance in this film as supermodel Gia Marie Carangi. This is the real-life story of a girl who experienced success at a very young age but was not able to handle the pressure of the industry. Eventually, she resorted to drugs and other vices.
As someone who knows beauty and fame well, there is no wonder Jolie was able to pull off such an extraordinary performance. She was able to help viewers understand what it’s like to succeed but still be unhappy. She was able to portray what it is to be ruined by drug addiction.
We highly recommend watching this film not just to realize the dangers of drugs, but also to understand celebrities and the pressure they are under. They are humans, too, after all.
20. The Fighter
The Fighter is based on the real-life story of boxer Micky Ward and his cocaine addict brother, a former boxer named Dicky. It focuses on family and how drug addiction can ruin a career (not just your own, but of other people’s careers as well).
Christian Bale does an amazing job acting in this film. His portrayal is heartfelt and gives the audience a real look at the anguish and darkness people face when addiction is involved.
21. City of God
City of God has been praised by a lot of critics who say that it effectively depicts what it is like to live in a poverty-plagued country, surrounded by crime and drug lords. The film is raw and original and makes you feel like you are there, experiencing it for yourself.
This movie shows the dangers of the drug trade and how it impacts not only those who are involved, but also the community at large. It takes a deep, dirty look at how destructive drugs can be for society.
Rocketman is a biographical musical that dives deep into the life of Elton John, portrayed by Taron Egerton. The movie gives us a glimpse into his rise to fame and the substance abuse that almost derailed his career.
This film takes a unique approach to addressing drug addiction by incorporating it into the larger-than-life story of a global superstar. It serves as a reminder that even those who seem to have it all can still struggle deeply with addiction.
23. Leaving Las Vegas
Leaving Las Vegas stars Nicolas Cage as a suicidal alcoholic who moves to Las Vegas with a plan to drink himself to death. There, he forms a relationship with a prostitute, played by Elisabeth Shue.
This film doesn't hold back on showing the devastating impact of addiction, not just on the individual, but also those around them.
Although it is not entirely about drugs, we still recommend this film when talking about addiction. It’s a raw, emotional journey that serves as a cautionary tale, making it a key addition to any list of films about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
24. Everything Must Go
Starring Will Ferrell in a dramatic yet humorous role, Everything Must Go follows a man who loses his job and wife due to his alcoholism. He is forced to live on his lawn and sell his possessions.
The film provides a unique take on how quickly addiction can strip away the normalcy of life. With its darkly comedic moments, it is perfect for those who want to explore the topic without the often accompanying heavy drama of a dark film.
25. A Star is Born
In this movie, Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a seasoned musician wrestling with addiction, who discovers a talented singer named Ally (portrayed by Lady Gaga).
The two embark on a complicated romantic relationship as they navigate the highs and lows of fame and addiction.
A Star is Born stands out for its raw emotional depth, giving audiences a close-up view of the destructive power of addiction on both personal and professional lives.
With moving performances and a haunting soundtrack, the film serves as an unforgettable cautionary tale about the dangers of substance abuse.
26. Midnight Cowboy
Midnight Cowboy stars Jon Voight as a young man who moves to New York City with dreams of becoming a gigolo, and Dustin Hoffman as a sickly con man. Drug abuse is a recurring theme throughout their journey.
This film is a classic that shows the darker side of the American Dream, including the pitfalls of drug addiction. It's gritty and real, and serves as an eye-opening look at the harsh realities of life and addiction.
Rush stars Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh as undercover cops who become addicted to the drugs they are supposed to be fighting against. Their lives spiral out of control as they get deeper into the drug world.
This movie provides an inside look into how even those tasked with combating drug abuse can fall victim to it. Rush is a gripping thriller that shows the insidious nature of addiction, making it a great choice for those interested in the topic.
Traffic is a multi-layered drama that weaves together various storylines connected to the drug trade. From law enforcement officials to drug dealers and users, the film features an ensemble cast that includes Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, and Benicio Del Toro.
What sets this movie apart is its comprehensive look at the drug issue, offering perspectives from both sides of the law.
By showing how deeply entrenched drug problems are in various facets of society, the film serves as an eye-opening discussion starter on the complexities and dangers of drug addiction.
29. Half Nelson
Ryan Gosling stars in Half Nelson as a high school teacher who forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students. While he inspires his class during the day, he struggles with a crack cocaine addiction at night.
The film offers an intimate look at the contradictions that often exist in people suffering from addiction. If you are looking for a compelling drama that sheds light on the complexities of human behavior and substance abuse, this is a must-watch.
30. Enter the Void
Enter the Void is an experimental drama that takes viewers on a psychedelic journey through the life and afterlife of a young man addicted to drugs. The story is set in Tokyo and includes a range of hallucinogenic experiences.
The movie is a visually stunning, albeit unsettling, experience that dives deep into the mind of an addict. It's not for everyone, but if you're looking for a film that tackles addiction from an avant-garde angle, this is it.
31. Four Good Days
Four Good Days features Mila Kunis as a woman trying to overcome a decade-long heroin addiction with the help of her mother, played by Glenn Close. The film is based on a true story and focuses on the four days leading up to her critical medical treatment.
This film provides a heart-wrenching look at the challenges families face when dealing with addiction. It's a story of hope and struggle, making it a fitting conclusion to a list focused on the dangers of—and potential for recovery from—drug addiction.
Final Thoughts on Movies About Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is a very serious, challenging issue that can feel nearly impossible for many people overcome. But there is hope for those who want to be free of their addictions. Finding support and learning about addiction is the first step.
These movies can help us understand what addiction looks like so that we can be empathetic and supportive of those who are struggling with it.
And if you're looking for more informative and inspirational movies, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 15 Best Movies About the Dangers of Bullying
- 21 Best Films That Explore Mental Illness
- 21 Best Movies about Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation