Alcohol and drug use are often depicted in films. Whether the main character becomes intoxicated and confesses their love for someone, a character struggles with drug dependency for comic relief, or the lead character has a spouse or parent with a substance abuse problem, substance use and abuse are often used more for emotional and narrative effect than to convey a serious message. Overall, movies rarely portray the process of detox and rehabilitation.
Fortunately, there are a few movies that portray the process of withdrawal, rehabilitation, and life after becoming sober.
Here are five movies about the drug detox and rehabilitation process:
- Clean and Sober (1988): Starring Michael Keaton, this lighthearted comedy features a wealthy real estate broker suffering from drug addiction who checks himself into a rehabilitation program, specifically to avoid law enforcement after a woman he parties with dies of an overdose. During his stint in the 21-day program, however, Keaton’s character begins to overcome his own cocaine addiction. The movie paints a portrait not only of rehabilitation programs, but of how hard it can be for a person struggling with addiction to admit that they have a problem and take responsibility for their health and happiness.
- The Basketball Diaries (1995): Based on Jim Carroll’s semi-autobiographical cult classic novel, this famous film stars a young Leonardo DiCaprio among many other now-famous Hollywood actors. A group of friends, centering around character Jim, attend a Catholic high school and are basketball stars. They’re eventually kicked off the team when they are found abusing drugs, leading Jim further into heroin addiction. While recovery is not shown in detail, Jim does describe spiraling downward, then detoxing and recovering, at the end of the film. As one of the more famous movies about the beginnings of substance abuse, the film notes that even people who struggle for decades with drug or alcohol addiction can still enter a rehabilitation program and achieve recovery.
- Trainspotting (1996): This famous movie is inspired by a popular novel by Irvine Welsh, and the film launched Ewan MacGregor into Hollywood stardom. It explores several reasons why detoxing from heroin and staying sober are so difficult. The movie starts out as almost a comedy, about a group of young friends who abuse drugs, primarily heroin, and have a great time together in Edinburgh. Eventually, though, the main character Renton becomes tired of feeling terrible after each trip, being homeless and jobless, and prioritizing substance abuse over other parts of his life. He locks himself in a room and, in a harrowing marathon, manages to detox. He even manages to stay clean for a little while, but without social connections outside of substance abuse, his drug-addicted friends pull him back in. While the movie does not have the happiest outcome, the underlying point about the struggle of addiction and continual relapse highlights the importance of entering a detox and rehabilitation program to get professional, evidence-based treatment.
- 28 Days (2000): Sandra Bullock stars as a high-functioning alcoholic working as a newspaper columnist who is forced into a detox and rehabilitation program after stealing a limousine and crashing it at her sister’s wedding. Her alternative is time in jail, so she naturally chooses rehab. As in the film Clean and Sober, Bullock’s character doesn’t believe she has a problem. She goes into the 28-day recovery program just to get out of tougher DUI consequences. Everyone around her refuses to believe that they also have problems, and their lives have ceased to be functional. While skimming the more superficial aspects of detox and rehab, the film still covers the importance of taking responsibility for getting clean and sober, while admitting that this is a difficult journey for anyone.
- Smashed (2012): In some cases, two people struggling with addictions can find themselves in a relationship. In this film, a married couple’s entire relationship is built around problem drinking. The wife, Kate, decides to end her struggle with alcohol, which brings out the strains and underlying problems in the couple’s relationship patterns. Charlie, the husband, misses Kate once she gets involved in AA and encourages her to return to her old habits. Although alcohol or drug detox can be uncomfortable, or even physically dangerous without help, in many cases, people manage to successfully quit drinking and enter the world of sobriety. Smashed shows that influences from one’s prior life in addiction retain a strong emotional pull, and if not prepared and properly supported, these influences can lead a person to relapse.
Realistic film portrayals of detox and rehabilitation are few and far between, but some movies show the journey through addiction and to recovery quite well. Often, depictions in movies or television show the importance of getting professional help to overcome addiction. And sometimes, these media depictions can even prompt individuals who are struggling with addiction to reach out for help.