For people healing from substance abuse, addiction recovery movies can help them cope and feel understood.
Addiction is a part of human nature that targets the innocent and holds back against none. With such a widespread threat lingering in the shadows, having a professional, competent, and caring team ready to treat drug and alcohol addiction is critical.
Whether it be for you or a loved one, Steps Recovery Center in Utah is one of the most trusted places for not only rehabilitation but implementation and maintaining the path to recovery and sobriety. In the spirit of renewal, here are 16 of the finest addiction and recovery movies to inspire all.
Addiction and Recovery Movies List
The following movies hit the nail on the head when it comes to the experience of addiction and recovery. While Hollywood paints the picture with a cinematic brush to hook viewers, the real process is not often so cut and dry with a happy ending. So, while we love these movies for inspiration, remember, recovery is a lifelong process.
We’re listing the film titles ahead of our descriptions as part of a trigger warning. Yes, all of these films deal with addiction and recovery. If you find you are easily triggered by viewing drug or alcohol use, pick up the phone and call us or your sponsor.
- Drugstore Cowboy
- 28 Days
- When a Man Loves a Woman
- My Name is Bill W.
- Half Nelson
- Silver Lining’s Playbook
- Clean and Sober
- Ben is Back
- Don’t Worry; He Won’t Get Very Far on Foot
- Beautiful Boy
- The Basketball Diaries
Fixated around a drug-addicted group in 1971, Drugstore Cowboy offers an explicit, honest glimpse into the many aspects of life with drugs and crime. The film is based on an autobiography by James Fogle, a former addict himself; both the story and Fogle’s real-life experience reveal the possibilities- as well as the hardships- stepping away from drugs offer.
Tragedy strikes early and often in Drugstore Cowboy and keeps the audience begging for some conclusion to the plot, much to the same extent as many addicts.
The movie’s main character, Bob, leads his tight-knit group of friends around the Cascadian region of the U.S., robbing pharmacies and hospitals to feed their drug cravings. Following an accident, Bob reveals to the group that he plans to get clean, shocking his compatriots. Bob later finds that leaving the drug life is more complicated than it seems, though not out of reach.
Rough around the edges, this film is the perfect movie for those seeking a violent, candid snapshot of Fogle’s life and the hit-and-run drug life in general.
Brilliant screenplay earned Drugstore Cowboy several accolades, including “Best Film” from the National Society of Film Critics, and a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Gus Van Sant
Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes
28 Days is a story of recovery and change for the better. Sandra Bullock stars as Gwen Cummings, who slips into the hole of alcoholism. While not as brutally honest as other movies on this list, the drama film certainly has its moments, highlighting the spectrum of addiction, withdrawal, and rehabilitation.
28 Days ventures into the family sides of addiction, as Cummings faces harsh judgment from her family and, most notably, her sister Lily. This deliberate criticism reflects the perspective many addicts feel when pushing out of addiction, making the threat of relapse closer.
Luckily for Bullock’s character, she is enrolled in a rehab center after a car accident in which she faces jail time or rehab. Picking the latter, she meets a group of individuals experiencing similar addictions and eventually grows close to them. By the end of the film, Gwen is wiser and can adopt the path to sobriety.
The importance of an accepting environment when healing addiction is capitalized on in this movie, with guidance and overcoming one’s self at the helm of the story. For movie-lovers looking for a lighter, more uplifting film, 28 Days is a good fit, although it too has its hard-hitting bits.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Betty Thomas
Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes
A modern-day story of overcoming alcoholism and adversity, Flight tells the tale of Captain Whip Whitaker and his miraculous crash landing of a plane holding over 100 people. The theme observed throughout this film is recovering and coming clean- both in addiction and in conscience.
Denzel Washington brings the troubled airline pilot to life in this drama film, changing drastically throughout the roughly two and a half-hour film. In the opening scene, he uses cocaine to wake himself up from a sleepless night, just before he prepares to fly a commercial airliner to Atlanta.
Later in the film, Whitaker attempts to evade the legal implications of his intoxication and running from his issues of addiction and honesty. When an unjust judicial decision is made, Whitaker finds himself on the fence of remaining in his dangerous, confining lifestyle of drunkenness or moving to change for the better. Consequently, he faces jail time.
Washington’s character, the focal point of this film, proves to be a prime example of changing for improvement of recovering. In whatever capacity it may be, coming clean is rarely easy, but can be made more comfortable with the help of a rehab facility like Steps Recovery Center.
The acting cast of Flight and the film itself won numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations for Denzel Washington and John Gatins.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Length: 2 hours, 18 minutes
A 1994 romantic drama, When a Man Loves a Woman, focuses in on the family side of things, and the effects alcoholism has on the family and surrounding circle. Addiction and recovery are major pillars supporting the film, although the plot sticks more tightly to the potentially alienating consequences of addiction within a relationship or marriage.
Alcohol addiction and a drunken accident eventually lead schoolteacher Alice Green (played by Meg Ryan) to enter a rehabilitation clinic, in which she flourishes. Once she returns home, Green’s spouse Michael is unable to adjust to his now-sober wife’s new lifestyle and independence and feels estranged and lost, prompting him to move out.
As the name suggests, When a Man Loves a Woman is not the most traumatic movie, it does not offer the most realistic picture of addiction or the hardships of it. Nonetheless, overcoming obstacles in life- in this case, alcoholism- and finding recovery is an achievement in all walks of life, no matter the size or shape of the obstacle.
Genre: Romantic Drama
Director: Luis Mandoki
Length: 2 hours, 6 minutes
The true story of World War I veteran William Griffith Wilson’s drinking problems and eventual alcohol addiction, paired with support from fellow borderline alcoholic Dr. Robert Smith, carve the path for what is today widely known as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Bill W. is presented without restraint, revealing the evils he kindled following the conclusion of WWI and the horrors he witnessed. My Name is Bill W. further helps the moviegoer understand the history of AA now spread across the nation. The film also delves into spiritual and religious awakening, which Wilson experienced during his time in the hospital for his alcoholic rehab.
While this film is history-oriented, it portrays Wilson’s life as a story, making it much more than a documentary. In the end, Wilson and Smith themselves can recover from their addictions and actually found a system that would offer support to those who need it the most in the future.
My Name is Bill W. would go on to become a Hallmark Hall of Fame film and earn 6 nominations and one award in the 1989 Emmys. In the following year, more nominations were given to the drama movie, including one in the 1990 Eddies.
Director: Daniel Petrie
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes
A wildly successful film in itself, Rocketman’s exploration and depiction of Elton John’s life and troubles rarely deviate from his addiction to alcohol and drugs. The critically acclaimed movie opens with the UK-native entering an addiction rehab center and begins the probe into John’s turbulent rise to fame.
From childhood to the peak of his worldwide renown, John experienced a heavy dose of hardship and rejection from his parents at a very young age, up through unloyal, abusive relationships in adulthood. These factors pointed to an escape towards addiction to various substances, and eventually attempted suicide.
Following another addiction-riddled battle with prescription pills and alcohol, John suffered a heart attack and, at last, entered the safe house of a rehabilitation center. He realized his independence with the help of those around him. His return to a successful career was observed not long after his experience in the rehab center, and an affluent, addiction-free path was found.
Although the life of such an influential, massive star like Elton John may seem painless and bright from the outside, it is not always the case. Openly seeking and finding help for yourself or those around you can lead to beautiful recoveries and guide individuals back onto the clean life, free from the grip of addiction and bursting with hope.
Taron Egerton, who starred as Elton John, earned several nominations and wins for his acting in Rocketman. Elton John himself also applauded the actor’s performance.
Genre: Biographical Music
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Length: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Half Nelson, a film focusing on the isolating effects of drug addiction and the outward harm the illegal drug industry causes, focuses on two characters whose lives become intertwined in the drug life. Although the grip of addiction nearly pulls both characters into its unrelenting web, they can gain perspective from each other and have a chance at escape and recovery.
Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps star as Dan and Drey, respectively, with the former a middle school history teacher, and the latter a student and basketball player. Following a basketball game, Drey discovers Dan, her coach, snorting cocaine in a locker room. This prompts the pair to get to know each other, revealing Drey is being roped into the local drug trade.
As the plot thickens, both experience the rollercoaster of emotions associated with the usage of drugs, leading to both characters giving in to the temptation of drugs. Dan falls back to his old habits and gives up on saving Drey from the neighborhood drug kingpin. While hope is never entirely lost, it comes close to falling out of sight frequently.
Relative to other addiction movies, Half Nelson is candid yet uplifting, a combination of descriptions rarely seen together in this genre. The film still explores the unrelenting turbulence of drug addiction and relapse, making for a unique, believable end product.
Gosling and Half Nelson earned many nominations and awards, a majority of which were in film festivals.
Genre: Social Drama
Director: Ryan Fleck
Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes
While Silver Lining’s Playbook is hardly related to addiction, it hits home on recovery from mental illness, and recovery in general. In this case, recovery begins and ends with finding people to kindle hope and change with. This film is also a great comeback story for one of its main characters, who has been cheated on and admitted to a psychiatric ward.
Bradley Cooper (Pat) and Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany) star as two troubled individuals struggling through mental illness and haunted by their pasts. As the pair are fatefully cast into each other’s paths, the road to recovery lengthens as both continue to experience tribulations. However, when Tiffany can promise Pat a chance to reconcile with his former wife, a bond is formed.
The entirety of Silver Lining’s Playbook is filled with grit and unexpected emotional outbreaks, forming a similar blueprint to that of a typical recovery from addiction or trauma. The all-star cast makes for an especially convincing screenplay and will instill a sense of optimism into any moviegoer by the time the credits roll around.
For those looking for a hardcore addiction and recovery movie, this is likely not the best option; however, for a more uplifting, light movie experience, Silver Lining’s Playbook is a great option, although it may leave you crying.
Jennifer Lawrence won her first Academy Award for her performance in Silver Lining’s Playbook, making her the second-youngest in the category’s history. Three other members of the cast also received nominations.
Genre: Romantic Comedy-drama
Director: David O. Russell
Length: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Gia tells the fatal, devastatingly true story of supermodel Gia Carangi’s life, leading to her addiction to drugs and her eventual peril. This biographical film presents an all-to-typical scenario of feeling isolated and experimentation with hard drugs. For Carangi, the hazards of drugs proved too fatal and led to very premature death.
Played by Angelina Jolie, Gia’s character can ride her looks and persona to the paramount of the modeling industry, leading to widespread praise and glorification. After her modeling agent dies unexpectedly, Gia falls into a pit of despair, and paired with her newfound loneliness, turns to drugs.
This unfilled void caused by her loneliness leads the model to rely on cocaine and heroin to function. The opportunity to come clean was at hand, although Carangi ended up turning it away, essentially choosing the drugs over her relationship. Tragically, she would end up contracting a deadly disease from her repeated use of drugs, cutting her life unnecessarily short.
Gia demonstrates the slippery slope far too many people fall down in response to tragedy or loss. In Gia’s case, there was no coming back from this terrifying place, although today there are solutions of recovery to this frightful, controlling monster of addiction. Rehab facilities and centers are present to combat this type of disease and are invaluable to full recovery.
Both Angelina Jolie and Faye Dunaway received Golden Globe awards for their contributions to Gia.
Genre: Biographical Drama
Director: Michael Cristofer
Length: 2 hours, 6 minutes
A novel-based, dark British film, trainspotting offers a grungy, British perspective of drug addiction and lifestyle. Riddled with death and violence, Trainspotting is by no means a heart-warming movie, although it does offer a frank glimpse into the terrifying dark underworld of drug usage, crime, and one man’s journey away from it.
In a group of compatriots, all brought together by their usage of heroin, the fast and furious lifestyle accompanying their addiction leads to trouble with the police. The story’s main character, Mark Renton, narrowly escapes. After a series of incidents, including Renton’s arrest for shoplifting, Renton decides to enter into a drug rehabilitation program.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the drug life follows Renton after he becomes clean of his drug addiction, prompting him to return to his old ways; after this, only being locked in a childhood room causes him to regain sobriety. At the conclusion of the film, Renton is granted the opportunity to leave his past behind and start again as a clean person.
This opportunity is always waiting for those addicts willing to sacrifice a bit of their time to rehab programs and facilities. Deciding to go forth is the most important, difficult one. As Steps Recovery Centers puts it, recovery centers are more than places for drug and alcohol rehabilitation; they present a way of learning and implementing the best path to recovery.
Trainspotting was a resounding success, especially in its native setting of the United Kingdom, where it became one of the biggest grossing films in the year of its release (1996).
Genre: British Black Crime/ Comedy
Director: Danny Boyle
Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Sequel: T2 Trainspotting (2017)
For individuals seeking a blunt account of an addict’s story, Clean and Sober is a great choice. By not shying away from the dark side of the main character Daryl’s (Michael Keaton) lifestyle, an honest depiction of addiction and its subtlety is made. For addicts and family members alike, Clean and Sober offers a chilling two hours of real-life addiction and recovery.
A cocaine-addicted real estate salesman turns to an anonymous rehab center to escape his impending downfall with the police. Following tough counsel from a senior former addict, Daryl can take responsibility for his actions and addiction, sending him on the right path to recovery.
Following a tragic loss in Daryl’s life, he is tempted to return to his old ways of drugs, only to be spared by his former connections in rehab. Recovery proves to be painfully difficult, shockingly painful, and completely liberating for Daryl, who is a man reborn after his bout with addiction and loss.
Clean and Sober tells the tale of an everyday man hiding a serious addiction, a case that is all too common in society. With rehab centers across the country and abroad ready and willing to bring individuals to sobriety, the most significant decision is to get to one. As Daryl would find in the film, recovery is much easier when done with support from a group.
Director: Glenn Gordon Caron
Length: 2 hours, 5 minutes
An unorthodox family drama, Ben is Back runs watchers through the manic day of one rehabbing drug user. As the main character and his family seek to maintain his sobriety over the holiday season, old friends resurface. The magnetic powers of addiction slowly rope him back into its tendrils.
Thanks to pure chance, main character Ben, a drug addict recovering at a rehab center, is startled to see his old drug buddies at a local store while shopping for clothes with his mother, Holly. After a stolen dog leads Ben on a wild goose chase to find him, Holly loses track of her son, prompting all sorts of issues.
Families who have dealt with addiction or are currently dealing with addiction may especially appreciate this film, as it points out the gut-wrenching guilt and stress associated with recovery. Although it did not score very well in the box office, Ben is Back is undoubtedly one of the top movies in the family addiction category, telling the 24-hour tale of one addict and his family.
Ben is Back is a gripping story revolving around a mother and her struggling son, weaving through a realistic addiction plot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film is loosely based on director Peter Hedges’ real-life experience with drug addiction, further extending the movie’s credibility.
Featuring a host of star-studded actors and actresses, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a true, memoir-adapted film focusing on one character’s recovery from alcoholism. In an upbeat, enjoyable manner, moviegoers are taken through the paralysis and recovery process of John Callahan (played by Joaquin Phoenix), eventually leading to a renewed, beautiful life.
Callahan, a cartoonist, fosters an alcoholic addiction, eventually leading to a car accident in which he becomes paralyzed from the waist down. This accident leads him to open his eyes to the things sober life has to offer; mentoring from an Alcoholics Anonymous partner and physical therapy allows the cartoonist to live a new life, free of addiction and anxiety.
The fact that this entire production was based on a memoir by the director makes the film all the more enjoyable, proving that truly anyone can turn their life around, and get in control of their addiction. Whether it be drugs, alcohol, or other facets of life, change is possible; Callahan proves this from a wheelchair.
One important note to mention regarding Callahan’s recovery is that he did not do it alone; AA sessions were irreplaceable parts to complete the puzzle of obtaining sobriety. The main point here is that surrounding yourself with a positive, well-influencing group of people can and will spur the right kind of change; a great example of this kind of setting is Steps Recovery Center.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Length: 1 hour, 55 minutes
The film is about a ride through a teenage boy’s battle with drugs and relapse into addiction, coupled with his father’s desperate fight to keep his son safe.
The biographical tale of one high school basketball player’s terrifying experience with drug addiction and all of the harm in its wake. Note: The Basketball Diaries stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim Carroll, whom the film is based on.
This early 90s unique story is about two undercover cops thrust into the drug world on a mission to obtain evidence, only to fall victim to the drugs themselves.
Treatment is Within Reach at Steps Recovery Centers
Whichever addiction and recovery movie you decide to watch, keep in mind that help for yourself or a loved one is only a phone call or click away. There is always hope.
Steps Recovery Centers has locations in Salt Lake City, Utah County, and St. George. Not only do we help our residents recover from drug and alcohol addiction, but we also provide them with tools to maintain long-term sobriety. For further information on our facilities and how we can help you with addiction recovery, contact us now.