Movies have the power to transport viewers to other worlds, but they can also accurately reflect real life experiences like addiction and recovery. Watching accurate depictions of addiction and recovery can inspire understanding for those unfamiliar with addiction while also giving those in recovery a chance to commiserate and contemplate their own struggles. An added bonus is that they also can have the power to encourage those in active recovery to keep trying and potentially inspire those still using to seek treatment.
It is important for individuals who are in early recovery or who haven’t gotten a firm grasp on their sobriety to exercise caution when watching movies with depictions of substance use and addiction. As much as movies can inspire, educate, and elevate our experiences, they can also act as serious triggers that can bring up complicated emotions or could potentially spark a relapse. Self-awareness is your best line of defense in these situations and don’t be afraid to walk away or even turn off an unfinished movie if it becomes too difficult to watch. Your sobriety should be your first priority and is not worth risking, especially for entertainment purposes.
Choice House Movie Picks
Although no movie gets addiction right because our lives are not movies with a clear beginning, middle, and nicely wrapped up ending. Recovery is of course more of a long-term process. However, some are admirable in their efforts and come from a place of truth. These genuine attempts to portray addiction in movies tend to excel in capturing certain aspects of addiction and the process of recovery.
Half Nelson (2006)
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s debut film features Ryan Gosling as a history teacher at an underprivileged Brooklyn middle school. As he actively tries to be a mentor to his students during the day, in particular a young girl named Drey (played by Shareeka Epps), he also finds himself spending most of his evenings struggling with addiction. The film excels at the humanistic portrayal of a struggling addict who finds himself perpetually stuck in his place in life.
It is an exacting performance from Gosling and one that emphasizes the perpetual arrested development that substance misuse can have on one’s life. As commendable as the realistic depiction of substance misuse is in the film, what makes the movie really stand out to us is the amount of humanity Gosling and Epps bring to both their respective roles.
The two characters’ lives collide as drug user and a young student being courted as a potential drug seller meet at a crossroads in both their lives. The movie shows that even people trying to altruistically help those less fortunate need help sometimes and that it takes to help someone struggling with addiction, to effect a change in someone’s life, is whole lot of empathy and a little bit of understanding, even if it has to come from the most unlikeliest of people and places.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Although not your typical story about substance use and recovery, addiction does run through many characters’ lives in Silver Linings Playbook. Jennifer Lawrence’s character is reacting with increasingly risky behavior that could lead to sexual addiction, the father Robert Deniro plays has an obvious and enabled gambling addiction, and arguably Bradley Cooper’s character is addicted to the false reality of a perfect marriage. While these are all realistic and commendable portrayals of addiction, we include the film in our best of list for its accurate depiction of mental health issues and the effects of trauma on mental health during recovery.
Bradley Cooper plays a man suffering from a psychotic break after assaulting a man he caught having an affair with his wife. Having recently been released from a mental hospital into the custody of his parents, he grapples with reentering society and potentially fixing his broken marriage. Along the way, he meets Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who is also dealing with trauma of her own, her husband having recently died unexpectedly. Her reaction to his death involves risky behavior that suggests a potentially evolving addiction to sex.
In the end, the two become friends as they attempt to recover from trauma while training for a dance competition. The portrayal of mental health issues is spot on as neither character is perfect and, in the end, both are still suffering from mental health issues but have learned to deal with those issues in a healthier manner. The movie presents the idea that recovery happens not only when you do the work but also sometimes from actions you don’t even understand and never had an interest in, i.e. dancing. It takes a willingness to try, trust that you’ll get there, and an incredible support network when it comes to addiction recovery.
Crazy Heart (2009)
Crazy Heart in no way glorifies the lifestyle of an addict and it is that type of realism that sets it apart from other portrayals of addiction. Jeff Bridges plays a country music has-been named Bad Blake who is struggling with alcoholism late in his life. When he becomes involved with a reporter, the potential damage he ends up causing to her and her son may just be the rock-bottom that finally sets ol’ Bad Blake on the path to recovery.
Less of a cautionary tale and more of a warning for self-awareness, the movie does a good job of showing that anybody can end up staying way too late at the party, a mistake that unfortunately has a tendency to hurt loved ones and ruin a once promising life. The movie is an accurate portrayal of hitting rock-bottom that can happen to anyone, even at Bad Blake’s much older age, and even though the turn around to recovery is somewhat breezed over, the heavy dose of real life alcoholism and its effect on everyone around him makes it a worthwhile watch.
Steven Soderbergh sets up an allstar cast to thoroughly explore the drug war still being waged in the United States and how it affects citizens at all levels. The film gives a nuanced portrayal of the inner workings of the drug trade from cartels to street level drug deals as well as the political positioning involved in the failed attempts to control and stop illicit drug trade and use. The movie’s plot is too convoluted to summarize easily, but aside from its tempered view on all sides, the final speech made by Michael Douglas’ character, a career politician with a daughter struggling with addiction, lands it in our favorite addiction recovery movie list. “If there is a war on drugs, then many of our family members are the enemy. And I don’t know how you wage war on your own family.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction or substance use disorder, then Choice House is here to help. We have the experience and skills necessary to help you make the transition to a sober and independent lifestyle free of substance misuse. With 90 day inpatient treatments, intensive outpatient programs, and a sober living campus, Choice House provides multiple therapeutic modalities to meet the needs of men seeking addiction recovery treatment. The dual diagnosis approach focuses on creating a new foundation centered on love and empathy while providing recovery patients with the necessary tools to not only achieve but also maintain their sobriety in the long run. Choice House is conveniently located in the Boulder County, Colorado area just minutes from the Rocky Mountain State National Park and a short distance from the city life of Louisville. It is an ideal setting that allows Choice House to promote outdoor, wilderness therapy modalities while also offering the opportunity to transition back to work from their sober living campus. For more information regarding Choice House and our treatment options, reach out by calling us at (720) 577-4422.