The Best Movies About Addiction and Recovery

Jump to a section
Expand list

Movies have a powerful way of connecting entertainment with reality, and some of the best movies are ones that we can identify with. They can help us to look at our own situations in an objective manner. The films listed below include recovery and addiction movies. With addiction statistics [1] growing daily in the US, these movies outline the realities and struggles of addicts. There is something to appreciate in every movie about addiction, whether or not you are an addict or in recovery. If you are currently battling addiction, or proudly watching in recovery, please be warned that the content of these movies may trigger a relapse or urge and we advise you to consult a mentor before watching them.


One of the Best Movies About Addiction:
Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream [2] is one of the most quintessential addiction movies of our time. Set in Coney Island, the film depicts addiction in many forms: heroin, pills, and sex. The movie is raw, dark, and realistic. Jared Leto plays Harry, who has dreams of becoming a big-time drug dealer. His friend (played by Marlon Wayons) has the same aspirations. But it’s hard to have big dreams when you’re a junkie. Harry’s girlfriend Marion (played by Jennifer Connelly), a wanna-be fashion designer, is sucked into Harry’s heroin addiction. Even Harry’s mother – expertly played by Ellen Burstyn – has her own addiction problems. She pops diet pills like candy to lose weight. The movie is so realistic, director Darren Aronofsky used actual junkies for extras in a supermarket scene that involves a shipment of heroin.


Flight, known as one of the most poignant movies about addiction and recovery, portrays the life of William “Whip” Whitaker; an alcoholic. He’s also a commuter airline pilot. Whip, played by Denzel Washington, thinks he has it together. He binges on alcohol, cocaine, sex, and weed. Basically, he will do anything that he can get his hands on. On a flight from Orlando to Atlanta, his plane malfunctions. Whip crash-lands the plane, saving mostly everyone onboard. But his drinking begins to raise questions as officials find out he was impaired during the crash. And that’s when he realizes he has a problem. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Flight [3] is an action-packed movie that depicts how one can hide their addictions.


Smashed [4] is one of the lesser-known movies about addiction and recovery. Yet it is a real masterpiece of sorts. Aaron Paul (Charlie) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate) play a married couple whose drinking has spiraled out of control. She is a 3rd grade schoolteacher who does a pretty good job at concealing her alcoholism, until she can’t. Kate’s drinking leads to an unintentional yet huge lie. She finds herself waking up on the streets, and drinking as soon as she gets up in the mornings. Kate tries to go to AA with the help of the school’s assistant principal Dave. Charlie continues to drink. Smashed poignantly depicts alcoholism and marriage, while preserving a couple’s timeless love for one another.

Leaving Las Vegas

Based on an autobiographical novel, Leaving Las Vegas [5] centers on Ben Sanderson (portrayed by Nicholas Cage). He is a screenwriter whose wife and son left him, causing him to spiral out of control. Ben gets fired, so he decides to use his severance check to drink himself to death in Las Vegas. There he meets Sera, a prostitute (played by Elisabeth Shue). The two form a bond, and Sera eventually asks Ben to move in with her. They have an understanding: Sera will never ask him to stop drinking, and Ben will never question her occupation. But that doesn’t last long. Leaving Las Vegas is one of the saddest addiction movies, but it’s also about absolute acceptance of character. Nicholas Cage won an Academy award for Best Actor for his role. Sadly, the author of Leaving Las Vegas committed suicide two weeks after principal photography of the film began.


Gia [6] is an HBO biographical movie from 1998 about the life of Gia Marie Carangi, one of the world’s first supermodels. In one of the best drug addiction movies, Angelina Jolie portrays Gia, a beautiful and far-from-shy teenager who moved to New York in 1977 to become a fashion model. She became an overnight success and a top-ranked cover girl in the modeling industry. Her mentor, Wilhemina Cooper (Faye Dunaway), helps her reach success. However, her success comes at a very steep price. Gia becomes a full-blown addict, ferociously doing coke, heroin, and pills.

Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell usually plays comedic characters, so his portrayal of Nick Halsey was particularly poignant. Everything Must Go [7] is based on a short story by Raymond Carver called “Why Don’t You Dance?” Incidentally, Raymond Carver himself was a recovering alcoholic. Nick is an alcoholic whose drinking causes him to lose his job. His wife, sick of his behavior, throws all of his belongings out on the front lawn. She also locks him out of the house. Nick decides to make a yard sale of it while he sits on his chair and drinks beer on the lawn. He befriends his pregnant neighbor and a kid in the process. This movie is about relapse, recovery, and letting go and it’s one of the few movies about addiction recovery.

Drugstore Cowboy

Filmed mainly in Portland, Oregon, Drugstore Cowboy [8] is about a group of drug users in the 70s who robbed drugstores to support their habit. Far from being one of the good recovery movies, this classic was directed by Gus Van Sant, and the 1989 film is based on an autobiographical novel by a long-time user and dealer. Matt Dillon plays Bob Hughes, the main character. Bob, his wife Dianne, and other friends strike it big with a drugstore robbery involving large quantities of the prescription drug dilaudid. Bob gets greedy and decides to finally rob the hospital, which is something that he has wanted to do for a long time. The robbery goes wrong, and he barely gets away. The group finds out that their young friend died from an overdose of dilaudid while they were gone. Bob is extremely superstitious, but his luck is running out.

Are These Movies About Addiction Familiar? 

While the stage makeup and Hollywood fame may be tempting, the reality of addiction certainly isn't. And unlike the happy ending in a good recovery movie, real life doesn’t quite happen the same way without persistent work and motivation. If you or someone you love are struggling with addiction, you can reach out to Avenues Recovery 24/7. With drug detox treatment and rehab programs across the USA, Avenues are here to support you in your personal story of recovery.

Find lasting sobriety at Avenues.

Call us anytime. Seriously.


Fully covered by
most insurances

Inpatient and
outpatient options

10 locations
across the US

I can't talk now—call me later Does my insurance cover this?

Check your insurance

We received your insurance request!

We will get back to you shortly. While you wait... you may find our resource blog helpful. Take a look below: