Movies about Addiction

Movies about Addiction and Alcoholism

Some good news is that alcohol consumption is down in the United States, a trend for the past few years.* However, while it is going down, there are still many people who struggle with abuse and addiction. Because alcohol is a widely accepted substance, it’s difficult to know it’s a problem. Further, it is also legal and for many it could never be something as bad as illegal substances. Movies about addiction are not incredibly common, nor are they seen as frequently as other movies.

Media plays a big part in our culture; the way alcohol is presented in media is incredibly important. Our consumption of media has significant influence on how we live and what we perceive to be okay. 
Portrayals of alcohol in television and film is a common occurrence. Frequently, alcohol in film depicts people having a fun time. Many movies, like The Hangover, are about a wild night fueled by alcohol and other substances. There may be some consequences shown, but generally the films are about the humorous effects of drinking too much. While of course not all consumption of alcohol is going to end in disaster, these films give the impression that the negative aspects of binge-drinking and abuse are outweighed by the good. Movies about alcohol addiction are just as important to show what can happen with alcohol abuse and addiction.

The Spectacular Now (2013)

For many young people, and even their families, the possibility of having a serious problem with alcohol seems far-fetched. After all, they’re young and being irresponsible is a part of growing up. While many underage people are exposed to alcohol and are able to eventually drink responsibly, many people also begin to develop alcohol abuse and addiction at an early age. In The Spectacular Now, Sutter is an 18-year-old who is popular and has a seemingly happy life. He’s constantly drinking, and driving as well, but sees this as a normal part of being a teenager. Others around him are drinking though not as heavily and constantly, but he fails to see any difference.

Sutter always idolized his father, despite him being absent. When they reconnect, it’s quickly apparent that his father is an alcoholic. Sutter realizes his father is mostly to blame for his parent’s divorce and for being absent from his life. Despite this, he doesn’t recognize how alcohol is similarly ruining his own life. Sutter’s abuse of alcohol leads him to fail his senior year of high school, quit his job because he cannot remain sober, and ruin romantic relationships.

He does eventually begin to see that he is using alcohol to mask his fear of failure and of an uncertain future. The Spectacular Now is a great film for anyone, but especially for young people and families to watch. It depicts how teen drinking is often normalized making it difficult to recognize it as a problem, but also how it can ruin a life even if the person is young.

Smashed (2012)

In Smashed, Kate is an elementary school teacher in her 20s. Throughout the film, we see her struggling with how alcohol is affecting her life through work and relationships. In the beginning, she drinks all night and then continues to drink in the morning before she goes to work. She throws up in front of the kids she teaches, which she covers by saying she is pregnant. This is followed by a series of embarrassing situations which prompt her to accept her coworker’s invitation to attend AA. In trying to justify her drinking, she says, “I’ve always drank a lot. Everyone I know drinks a lot. So I never really thought it was a problem.” Her husband is an alcoholic, her mother is, and her father was until he left her mother after getting sober.

When Kate is sober for the first time, she begins to have problems with those around her. Her mother thinks AA is evil and what ruined her marriage. Kate’s husband also begins to resent her for attending AA, saying she is brainwashed because of it. She wants to take responsibility for her actions, including at work which causes her to lose her job. Kate does relapse before celebrating a year of sobriety at the end of the movie. She reflects on sobriety, noting that she lost her job and her marriage fell apart while sober, something she didn’t expect. Smashed presents a real, and touching, look at addiction and how alcohol can ruin one’s life through relationships and work. It shows that sobriety is a constant journey which can be difficult, and that relapse is a part of that.

Why Movies about Addiction are Important

Media influences us. Movies are frequently, though not always, a reflection of our culture, values, and what is important to us. We absorb their messages, whether consciously or unconsciously, and take them with us throughout our lives. It’s not impossible for every person to responsibly consume alcohol, but it is difficult and for some people it may be impossible. A New York Times article cites a study from the University of Dayton, which showed that 20% to 25% of students changed their opinions on political issues after watching films about the government.* The decision to change one’s mind or how we understand issues after a movie might not always be so clear-cut. Movies about alcohol addiction make a difference.

The two movies listed above are important in the way they show how alcohol can negatively affect us. They show how difficult it is to recognize the problem in the first place, and how hard it is to get help especially when those around you make it harder. In Smashed, in particular, many of Kate’s family and friends have the same destructive habits and enable her behavior. Both films do a wonderful job of showing that our entire life, and environment, influence us. They’re well-made films for anyone, but they can also be a great choice for anyone looking for something that reflects their own experiences or their loved one’s experiences. Neither film shames or stigmatizes the characters or their addiction, but rather seeks to understand them and their journey. Something that is incredibly important when it comes to movies about addiction. If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol addiction, please reach out to us today.

*Resources:
Americans are Drinking Less Alcohol – Wall Street Journal
How Movies Can Change Our Minds – The New York Times