Movies about drugs, addiction and alcoholism can be hard-hitting and even triggering for some people. However, they serve as a strong reminder of how addiction can impact all areas of life for those in recovery.
Being in recovery for drug and alcohol substance use is an active process that must be maintained daily to remain sober.
Movies about addiction and alcoholism can also shed light on what it’s like to be in a dark place for those who have someone they care about that is struggling to find a way out.
We’ve rounded up a list of some of the best movies about drugs and alcoholism that highlight the topic of addiction and substance use.
9 Movies About Drugs, Addiction and Alcoholism
1. Barfly (1987)
Barfly is a semi-autobiography film about poet and author Charles Bukowski. It portrays the main character, played by Mickey Rourke, as an alcoholic with an alter ego called Henry Chinaski. The play was actually written by Bukowski himself.
In the film, Henry lives in a rundown apartment and works menial jobs. He finds solace in writing poetry to express his emotions. In the evening Henry would go to local bars and often get in trouble, hence the name, Barfly.
2. Affliction (1997)
Affliction is a film adaptation of a novel by the same name written by Russell Banks. The main character of the film is Wade Whitehouse, who is a policeman in New Hampshire.
In the movie, Wade is played by Nick Nolte, a man who is isolated from his dominating and abusive alcoholic father and ex-wife and becomes obsessed with the notion of solving a crime involving a fatal hunting accident.
3. Betty (1992)
Genre: Psychological drama
Betty is played by Marie Trintignant, who is a young married alcoholic woman with two children and her bourgeois husband finds out that she has been cheating on him.
Betty is soon removed from the family home and separated from her own children. She is later taken in by Laure, who is played by Stephane Audran, and has a partner who runs the restaurant where they met.
Betty plots to steal Laure’s partner and is yet again ousted from another relationship.
4. Crazy Heart (2009)
Crazy Heart is a movie about alcoholism based on a novel by the same name and written by Thomas Cobb. The film follows Otis “Bad Boy” Blake, a 57-year-old alcoholic singer-songwriter who lives on the road.
In the film, Blake is played by Jeff Bridges and he has a string of 4 or 5 failed marriages and a son that he hasn’t contacted for 24 years. He meets a woman by the name of Jean and begins to get his life together.
Unfortunately, his drinking starts again and a drunk driving accident lands him in the hospital. Blake ends up going through a rehab program and finally manages to get sober.
5. Clean and Sober (1988)
Clean and Sober is a movie about a successful real estate agent named Daryl Poynter (played by Michael Keaton) who suffers from substance abuse.
Poynter has a cocaine addiction problem and loses a lot of his company’s money due to his addiction. He ends up in a sticky situation when he wakes up next to a woman who had a heart attack. As he attempts to flee the situation, Poynter checks himself into a rehab center to hide.
During his time at the treatment center, Poynter realizes that his life is a mess and he is indeed an addict. Poynter falls in love with Charlie who dies in a car crash, which nearly causes him to relapse.
Related: Famous Cocaine Users
6. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Genre: Crime Drama
Drugstore Cowboy is an autobiographical story based on a novel by James Fogle, who was a long time drug user and dealer.
The main character in the film is Bob Hughes, played by Matt Dillon, who travels across the Pacific Northwest with a group of drug addicts, robbing pharmacies as they go to support their habit.
The film covers theft, crime, overdose and the complexities of life as a group of young drug addicts.
After Hughes witnesses his friend’s death by overdose, he decides to get clean. However, things get complicated and he can’t escape his connections to the drug world.
Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle called it one of the best drug movies ever made.
7. Everything Must Go (2010)
Genre: Comedy Drama
Everything Must Go is a film inspired by Raymond Carver’s short story titled, “Why Don’t You Dance?”
The main character, Nick Halsey, is played by Will Ferrell who gets fired from his job of 16 years due to incidents connected to alcoholism. Then his wife leaves him, his company car is taken back and his credit cards no longer work.
Nick then gets a permit to hold a yard sale from his AA sponsor, and he sells all of his belongings so that he will have money.
Nick is broke and has to go without alcohol which leaves him experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms. The film follows Nick as he struggles with divorce, relationships, and where to live because of his destructive alcohol misuse.
8. Trainspotting (1996)
Genre: Black Comedy Crime
Trainspotting is a film based on a novel by the same name and written by Irvine Welsh. It takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK and follows a group of young heroin addicts.
The film centers around the themes of living through poverty, addiction, friendship, and relapse.
The main character of the film is 26-year old Mark Renton who still lives with his parents but tries to escape his friends and unhealthy lifestyle as he attempts to become sober.
It is one of the more realistic movies about drugs that portrays the low points of addiction.
Related: Famous Heroin Addicts
9. When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)
Genre: Romantic Drama
When a Man Loves a Woman is a film starring Meg Ryan as Alice Green, a school counselor with an alcohol use disorder. When drunk, Green is reckless and neglects her two young daughters.
Alice’s husband Michael (Andy Garcia) is an airline pilot who helps her confront the truth about her problem drinking and she enters a rehabilitation center.
The story has a plot twist when her husband discovers he cannot deal with Alice’s newfound freedom. They realize that he was codependent, and he has failed to see what was really going on.
More Movies About Drugs and Alcoholism
The alcoholism and drug movies mentioned above are some of the most popular in the past 30 years, but there are many others that deal with the consequences of addiction.
Below are some additional movies about drugs and alcoholism that are worth watching for anyone interested in this genre. They are listed in chronological order from earliest release date to most recent.
19 Movies About Drugs
- Midnight Cowboy (1969)
- Scarface (1983)
- The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
- Naked Lunch (1991)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
- The Basketball Diaries (1995)
- Boogie Nights (1997)
- Gia (1998)
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
- Requiem for a Dream (2000)
- Traffic (2000)
- Blow (2001)
- The Salton Sea (2002)
- 21 Grams (2003)
- Half Nelson (2006)
- American Gangster (2007)
- The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
- Dope (2015)
- Beautiful Boy (2018)
18 Movies About Alcoholism
- Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
- Arthur (1981)
- The Verdict (1982)
- The Morning After (1986)
- Ironweed (1987)
- My Name Is Bill W (1989)
- When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)
- Drunks (1995)
- 28 Days (2000)
- Walk the Line (2005)
- Julia (2008)
- Flight (2012)
- The Spectacular Now (2013)
- The Girl on the Train (2016)
- A Star is Born (2018)
- Destroyer (2018)
- Rocketman (2019)
- Honey Boy (2019)
Final Thoughts on Movies About Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
Many of the movies about drugs and alcohol are difficult to watch for some people.
This might be perhaps because they are based on novels that were written by people who have suffered from the problems first hand and they are true to life.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of movies about drugs and alcoholism, although there some great films on the list to entertain for the next movie night.
If you or someone you care about battle with addiction or substance abuse, it’s important to reach out for help, and hopefully these movies will motivate some people to do just that.
Many important books and films were written as a reflection of real life circumstances that touched their creators.
Substance use and addiction impacts people from all walks of life and as such, it has been a popular topic for many years in Hollywood and on the big screen.