Tag Archives: Addiction in Media

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

Addiction and Isolation

A Cycle of Addiction and Isolation

Addiction steals from people. It steals time and destroys relationships and communities. Often, people suffering from addiction end up increasingly isolated. This could be due to their own guilt and shame, and they then cut themselves off from those around them. With the stigma around addiction, many communities may also knowingly or unknowingly cause others to become isolated. The many causes and effects of addiction may be rooted in loneliness, isolation and mental health disorders, which are often in turn made worse by addiction. This creates a cruel cycle that continues until someone, or many people, can help break it.

Isolation due to Mental Illness

It is an unfortunate truth that there is a stigma around mental illness. When someone is struggling with their mental health, others may have a hard time relating. Even those with mental health problems may hold a self-stigma around the issue. In an article published by World Psychiatry, the authors wrote that in addition to views held by the general public, “…even well-trained professionals from most mental health disciplines subscribe to stereotypes about mental illness.”* They also found 3 common views regarding people with mental illness:*

  1. People with mental illness are to be feared and kept away
  2. They are dangerous and reckless; need to be controlled
  3. They are like children and cannot make decisions for themselves

Given the information above, it’s understandable that resources are difficult to find or that people are reluctant to seek help. If anyone is dealing with addiction and mental illness, they may be more reluctant to get treatment and their isolation will increase. Without a support system, someone might turn to substances to cope with their problems.

How Technology Isolates Us

Technology has provided humans with a lot of incredible opportunities, particularly when it comes to connecting. There are of course downsides to this and many of the issues can lead to increased isolation. As people give more attention to devices, they take away from time to give to family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. This can be harmful to maintaining strong relationships with those around you. When someone is dealing with addiction and/or mental health problems, a strong community is essential to their health. As technology is still a newer phenomenon in terms of history, a lot still needs to be done in the way of research. Certain studies do show connections between technology and isolation, though the exact cause and effects are not conclusive.

Still, a study reported on by NPR revealed that it is possible social media increases people’s perception of isolation.* Social media allows us to present our lives in any manner we want, and show only the good times. According to the study, some people may feel excluded because they were not there in the moment, or even because their life does not look as good as what they see online.

A feeling of isolation is not going to absolutely result in substance abuse or addiction. However, it is possible that some people will turn to substances to cope with being lonely or socially isolated. Many substances, and especially alcohol, seemingly make it easier to connect with others. Advertising for alcohol is incredibly effective in presenting the idea that alcohol will allow you to be social, and to always have fun when it is consumed. Social media can further this notion with people posting about the fun they are supposedly having, with alcohol being a constant presence.

Rebuilding

Issues with mental health, loneliness, and technology do not mean someone will struggle with substance abuse or addiction. Not everyone who is isolated is going to always struggle with these problems. They are just a few factors that might play a part.

Many different steps can and should be taken to remedy these problems. One is to work on removing the shame and stigma around addiction and mental health disorders. Another action, that everyone can be a part of, is to build strong communities. Someone in recovery is in great need of community to have a better chance at maintaining long-term sobriety. Relapse is a normal part of recovery, but someone with a community around them has a better chance at overcoming any relapses. Addiction is complicated and it is hard to fight. It is something that absolutely requires the effort of multiple people.


Someone might have lost most of their community while they were struggling with addiction. They also might have lost contact at any point in their lives because of mental illness, technology, or any other number of causes. Whether or not someone has a strong community on the outside, Reflections will work with each patient to provide that. We help our clients rebuild a community and provide the tools they need to succeed after treatment. At Reflections, we work with clients to remove the shame from addiction and mental illness. It is important that people know that treatment is possible and that they do not have to be alone. If you or a loved one needs help, please contact us today.

Resources*:
Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness – World Psychiatry
Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time on Social Media May Be Why – NPR


Substance Use in Media

Media and Addiction

With the rise of technology and media, it may or may not be obvious to say media has a significant impact on our lives. Advertising has been around for a long time and has changed rapidly in recent years. Companies and individuals seek to impact our lives through movies, music, radio, television, magazines, and so much more. As much of this has happened rapidly, society has struggled to recognize problems that have come up and how to deal with them. Substance abuse and addiction are complex topics and the way the media portrays them is equally complex. In our society, there is a conversation around how much companies and individuals in the media are responsible for the content they present.

In the U.S., media plays a massive part of most people’s lives in some ways. From the Pew Research Center, at least 69% of Americans use social media in some way.* From a government census, 78% of American households have a laptop or computer desktop.* In regard to television, Nielsen estimates that there are 119.6 million TV homes for the 2017-2018 season.* Clearly, media will reach most people one way or another. Looking into the various forms of media and understanding how they might influence addiction can be essential for many people. If you or a loved one is dealing with addiction, it can help to know how the media might play a part. It is even helpful to take a deeper look, to see how media can influence your or a loved one’s understanding of when substance use turns to abuse and addiction.

Drugs and Alcohol in Television and Film

The way people watch television is rapidly changing, but television consumption overall is still a major part of American life. Alcohol and drug use are common depictions, in varying situations. Any portrayal of substance use and addiction is not itself a bad thing. They are realistic parts of life; always avoiding taboo subjects and pretending they do not exist causes more harm in the long run. In fact, the stigma around drug and alcohol use often hinders people from seeking help. A common discussion in society is what portrayal is needed versus what is glorifying substance abuse? An important factor is the age group of target audiences, or who has access to content regardless of who the target group is.

With commercials, advertising for alcohol is incredibly successful and influences people of all ages. Commercials for alcohol do not necessarily glorify substance abuse or addiction, but they do present alcohol use as an avenue to a happier life. While they come with a warning to drink responsibly, the primary focus is the fun that alcohol provides. Groups of people are at a club, a party, a beach, or any number of pleasant scenarios.

Alcohol and drug use are frequent topics in television. They can influence people of all ages, but might make a more significant impact on younger people who are more easily influenced. The Council on Communications and Media wrote, “On prime-time television, 70% of programs depict alcohol use. More than one-third of the drinking scenes are humorous, and negative consequences are shown in only 23%.”* They also found, “Drug scenes are more common in movies…and no harmful consequences are shown more than half the time.”* This kind of message presents substance use as harmless or even humorous.

Social Media and Substance Use

While technology has been around for a while, social media is a more recent creation. It’s quickly become something that an astounding number of people in the U.S., and around the world, use. With the rapid creation and use of various social media platforms, societies have struggled to manage issues that arise. A lot of studies regarding the effects of social media are new and they will naturally continue for as long as we use it. What we do know currently, is that social media can be highly influential and misleading.

Social media can present use of substances in an appealing light, with little regard to the consequences. There are many popular accounts on Instagram that share funny text messages regarding substance use. People use illicit drugs or drink to the point where they are blackout drunk, which is then shared via text. Despite engaging in reckless behavior they hardly remember, the events are seen in a humorous light. Teens could be more susceptible to this, but anyone might view substance use as less risky as a result. In a study done by multiple Ivy League schools, the authors found, “When social media users are frequently and repeatedly exposed to or engage in such substance-promoting communications, they may become more accepting of or immune to these risky behaviors.”* Furthermore, this type of content makes it hard for someone to recognize if they already have a problem.

How Media Impacts Us

Much of media including film, TV shows, commercials, and social media is a recent phenomenon as far as history is concerned. When we study how they affect substance use, abuse, and addiction, we are only beginning to gain an understanding of these topics. Not all substance use has to necessarily be a bad thing. The purpose of prescription drugs is to help people. Truly responsible consumption of alcohol could be possible, but is difficult to actually maintain.

The point of the information above is not to be a scaremonger. Rather, to help others understand the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in media and how to navigate that. It’s helpful to understand if you have teenagers in your life. It’s also good to be wary of how the media might influence your own perception of the risk of substance use. Someone could have a drug or alcohol problem, but validation from media makes that hard to recognize or accept.

It will not be easy to figure out solutions to resolving these problems. Losing any reference to alcohol or drugs is certainly not the solution. They’re realistic parts of life. Hiding that will cause people to hide it from others, making help unlikely or impossible. Just like the accounts on Instagram, there should be resources to provide help provide education on substance abuse and addiction. Having these discussions is also essential so people are aware of how the media influences us and what to look out for.

*Resources:
Social Media Fact Sheet – Pew Research Center
Computer and Internet Use in the United States – Census.gov
Nielsen Estimates 119.6 Million TV Homes – Nielsen
Children, Adolescents, Substance Abuse, and the Media – The Council on Communication and Media
Scaling Up Research on Drug Abuse and Addiction Through Social Media Big Data – NIH

Movies about Addiction

Substance Abuse in Media

Movies have significant cultural impact and movies about addiction are important. Substances have been portrayed in a variety of ways, ranging from casual use, to abuse and addiction. Many films, including The Hangover, are centered around wild nights fueled by alcohol. In The Wolf of Wall Street, many of the characters engage in binge-drinking and abuse of various illicit substances. While both films do touch on consequences in some ways, the movies present the substance abuse in a comedic manner. As heroin is highly-addictive and considered a “hard” drug, it is not usually thought of or portrayed in a light manner that abuse of other substances might be. There are, of course, some movies like Trainspotting which is considered a “black comedy”. This type of movie usually takes a comedic look at topics that are taboo, like heroin addiction.

In a study done on illicit substances in media, researchers found, “Media can influence audiences in four key ways…” which includes, “…indirectly shaping individual and community attitudes toward risk…”* With heavy-drinking often portrayed as comedic, it’s understandable that many do not recognize it as a problem in real life.  With heroin, this is less likely, but how it is portrayed in a movie can still have a significant impact on viewers. Movies about addiction affect our views whether we consciously or unconsciously recognize it.

Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting follows a variety of characters, with Mark Renton being the main character we see. Mark, and many of his friends, are lower-class in Scotland. For them, heroin addiction is a way of coping with their problems and they often express that it makes them feel better about their place in life. At one point in the film, Mark expresses the sentiment that their lives have little meaning outside of addiction. Various events, including arrests and a death, cause the group to reconsider this at certain points. A couple of times, Mark maintains maintain sobriety for a short time, determined to stay sober. However, something, whether a traumatic event or simply craving heroin, draws him back in. As most of his friends are struggling with addiction, it is difficult for Mark to maintain sobriety for a long amount of time.

True to real life, addiction is often a way that people cope with their lives. For some it is a past trauma. For others, it is something like their social and economic class, which can be traumatic in its own way. While Trainspotting is a black comedy and finds some humor in it, the movie does accurately depict how difficult it can be to break the cycle of addiction. When the majority of your social group engages in the same behaviors, this can make sobriety more difficult to achieve.

Wild (2014)

Wild is based on a memoir written by author Cheryl Strayed. The movie primarily follows her journey to walk 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. She embarks on this journey in hopes of continuing her recovery from addiction and other issues in her past. While hiking, the movie presents flashbacks that take the viewer through her life to help understand her actions. As a child, Cheryl grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father before her mother finally divorced him. Her mother was her closest friend and when she died at 45 years old from cancer, this caused Cheryl to spiral into a deep depression.

Following her mother’s death, Cheryl turns to heroin and anonymous sex in an attempt to cope with the pain. In the process, she strains relationships with her husband (they eventually divorce), family, and friends. Her addiction and depression also prevents her from finishing her education or developing a career. At one point, Cheryl denies her addiction and states that she is in control and is just experimenting. Heroin is not the sole focus of Wild, but it is a topic that is present for most of it. They do a good job of subtly showing how people might turn to addiction, their denial or reasoning, and how it destroys different areas of their life.

Many people dealing with addiction often have trauma in their lives, whether from before or after addiction. Cheryl had a traumatic upbringing with her father and then the death of her mother at a young age. The abuse of substances obviously varies, but it is incredibly common to numb pain through addiction.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

An interesting fact about Requiem for a Dream is that the word heroin is never said by a character. There are various illicit substances used and the film does touch on different addictions. There is Harry Goldfarb, his mother Sara, his girlfriend Marion, and his friend Tyrone. At the start of the film, Harry and Tyrone are pawning Sara’s TV, which they do regularly after she buys it back, to fund their heroin addiction. Sara suffers from a food addiction and, after going to a doctor, begins to take amphetamines. Harry expresses concern for his mother and wants her to stop using drugs. Despite his concern, he is not capable of acknowledging his own addiction and how it is ruining his life.

Throughout the film, it’s clear that all four characters are delusional and using substance abuse to cope with something in their life. Sara is a reflection of many older people in real life; her husband is dead, her son suffering from addiction, which she enables, and she is incredibly lonely. Tyrone hopes to escape the ghetto. Quite often, people are trapped by economic circumstances and it is an unfortunate reality that they then turn to addiction as a means of coping. Harry and Marion are both struggling with mental health issues. They use heroin, and other substances, as a means to cope and feel something.

Sara’s husband died at some point and Harry is all she has. Because of this and her own addiction, she fails to recognize or try to help her son’s addiction. Harry, Marion, and Tyrone are all unable to see what their addiction is doing to their lives. Their relationships with one another rapidly deteriorate as they make compromises, face violence and arrest, and lose any sense of purpose to feed their addiction. As far as movies about addiction are concerned, Requiem shows how addiction can vary and how it impacts those around you.

Using Movies about Addiction to Better Understand Addiction

All of the movies about addiction mentioned above have had significant impact on our culture. While other substances are frequently talked about or shown in media, heroin has been and is still a taboo subject. They all accurately show the depths to which heroin addiction can take people. Each film also portrays the way addiction reaches the community around you, and how it affects your friends and family. Different people may be able to get varying messages from the film. For people watching their loved one go through addiction, it might help provide insight into the causes and the path that led them there. Anyone who has struggled with addiction, or still is currently, it can show that they are not alone in their experiences. Trainspotting, in particular, shows that relapse is a very normal part of addiction and does not mean anyone should give up in their efforts to maintain sobriety.

*Resources:
Illicit drugs and the media – NIH