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12 Movies About Addiction and Recovery

Elysia Valdivia lives in Northern Colorado. She enjoys yoga, walks in nature with her dogs, and sharing/exchanging thoughts with others.

12 films about addiction, alcoholism, recovery, and AA

12 films about addiction, alcoholism, recovery, and AA

Substance Abuse and Treatment in the Movies

According to, illicit drug use went up in Americans aged 12 or older from 2002 to 2013. Of the 8.6 percent of the population who were dependent on alcohol or chemical substances in 2013, only about 0.9 percent actually received treatment at a facility.

There are so many 12 step programs and treatment facilities available in the US. Thanks to the foundation set by Bill W. and Dr. Bob, many lives have been spared and astonishingly improved.

Over the years, the entertainment industry has attempted to capture an accurate representation of alcoholics and addicts hitting their bottom and their subsequent treatment and recovery. Some have done better than others.

Thankfully, films have made huge strides in the quality of their tales of substance abuse and treatment. So in the spirit of movies and the 12 Steps, I present to you 12 films about addiction and recovery!

Quirky Addiction/Recovery Films

1. 28 Days (2000)

It is not surprising that Sandra Bullock plays the most adorable drug addict/alcoholic. As the movie progresses, however, the source and depth of Ms. Bullock's character Gwen's addiction and the behaviors produced by said addiction is candidly revealed.

The movie deals with a number of issues that recovering addicts encounter in treatment as well as the various types of people who find themselves checked into rehab. The supporting cast is quirky and tragic at the same time.

The climactic ending in which Gwen finds herself calling upon her "Higher Power" was executed in a manner in which anyone who has ever experienced such a moment would understand. Even if one's own spiritual encounter was completely different than Gwen's.

While the movie offers plenty of laughter, you might keep some tissue handy because there are some raw emotional moments. If you are in recovery, you will get it.

2. You Kill Me (2007)

Ben Kingsley as a hitman whose drinking is getting in the way of his ability to "execute" his work accurately. His "employer" sends him to San Francisco to attend AA meetings and get clean. Fortunately, he finds love. Unfortunately, he must return home to deal with the "family business".

While this is a funny movie, I will caution you about some violence. Best line of this movie:

"It isn't that I'm sorry I killed them; it's that I'm sorry I killed them badly."

3. Everything Must Go (2010)

Nick Halsey (Will Farrell) is an example of how NOT to work a recovery program. Anyone who has been a stubborn drunk who's unwilling to comply with family, work, and society will identify with this film. I am not sure anyone other than Will Farrell could pull this off.

Movies like this offer hope to the many who are labeled "Hopeless". Especially, considering the many souls who walk into AA with said label, eventually finding themselves branded "Miracles".

Grim Independent Addiction/Recovery Films

4. Drunks (1995)

This film is based on one AA meeting. Many viewers exclaimed that this was not a realistic portrayal of an AA gathering. My opinion deviates from these reviews. This is exactly how a train wreck of an AA meeting happens - and they do happen. After watching this movie, I felt that, well I needed a meeting to recover from its effect. This has indeed happened to me personally after a bad meeting.

The multiple characters in this movie are in likeness to the people you will meet in the rooms of recovery…though maybe not all at once, thankfully. A decent enough movie, though not one of the better films on this subject to date.

5. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

I might be biased because I would follow Matt Dillon into the depths of hell…or a recovery meeting, whatever. Regardless, this is a brilliant film about drug use and the need to move on to a new and better way of living.

The cast is believable in their ridiculous adventures of attaining the next high, their rituals, and their superstitions…I still get a twitch when I see a hat on the bed. When Matt Dillon's character reveals he is through, you believe it. Seeing that life does not become all roses and rainbows and people are not quick to believe that the addict is cleaning up is also presented realistically.

This is a movie that all addicts should watch.

Dramatically Appealing Addiction/Recovery Films

6. Clean and Sober (1988)

This film could also be listed under the "Grim" category. Why Michael Keaton was not given an Academy Award for this is beyond me. Michael Keaton plays a cocaine-addicted businessman so precisely that you might think you actually have met this guy either on the street or at a meeting.

I can't say this is a tear-jerker. More likely an eye-opener. This story dispels the myth that all "junkies" are homeless people that mug innocent victims. You will see, that many do rob people through embezzlement and poor business decisions. In addition, all drug addicts have hope whether they live on a park bench or on Park Avenue.

7. When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

I first watched this movie when I was actively drinking and using. I thought it was a mushy waste of my time. Fortunately, I viewed it again after I myself had a few years clean and sober.

I am not a big Meg Ryan fan yet she flexed some strong thespian muscle in this one.

Not an Andy Garcia fan either, however, I was so impressed with his rendering of an Al-Anon. When he finally accepts this, you feel the proverbial weight of the world fall off his shoulders. I found myself more drawn to the development of this character as well. It is good to see how the other side progresses when they too, develop a program of recovery.

8. Ray (2004)

Although a biographical movie about the late-great Ray Charles, a big part of Ray's story is about his heroin use and addiction. The movie does not exactly go into detail about the recovery process, but it is a good story all the same. In the film, his drinking, using buddies either succumb to their addictions or they get clean. An authentic view of a famous recovery slogan "Jails, institutions or death".

9. Flight (2012)

In keeping with its name, this movie is a ride. Not always a pleasant one either. Denzel Washington has a way of allowing a viewer to get right under his character's skin. Every action, inaction, and behavior is duly presented the way an addict/alcoholic feels when they are in the proverbial state of being stuck in between a rock and a hard place.

The key takeaway from this film: Acceptance. For more information on that, see "The Serenity Prayer".

Films Based on Recovery Pioneers

10. The Betty Ford Story (1987)

Who but Gena Rowlands could capture so brilliantly the light of our late first lady Betty Ford? How many lives have been saved because of this woman's legacy? Most definitely, a good watch if you want to understand part of the history of treatment centers in the US.

11. When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story (2010)

An actual made-for-TV movie that gets it right! This film is another depiction of the flipside of addiction/alcoholism.

Lois was without a doubt, the backbone of Bill Wilson's movement. Those who have read the AA Big Book know all the trials she went through not only while Bill was drinking, but also as he was soberly developing a program that would change lives dramatically.

Wynona Ryder and Barry Pepper are perfectly cast as Bill and Lois.

12. My Name is Bill W. (1989)

Last but not least is the made for television film about the founder of AA himself, Bill W. How exciting it is for those of us who have read the stories, to view the characters based on the true tales of Alcoholics Anonymous on film! James Woods, James Garner, JoBeth Williams, and Gary Sinise are cast as Bill, Bob, Lois, and Ebby. Well done indeed!

This movie is a most excellent depiction of Bill and Dr. Bob's magnificent journey. A journey in which began the powerful movement of Alcoholics Anonymous!

If you don't watch any other movie listed in this hub, you will do yourself a great service by viewing this one!

Happy Viewing and Let's Not Forget:

So there you have it! Grab some popcorn, soft drinks, and enjoy!

Let us not forget that without Bill and Bob, none of these great movies would have happened and I would not have this topic to write about!

Let us also remember to take a moment of silence for the still suffering addict/alcoholics. Their struggle is real and the road is long. Hope to see them soon.


Phyllis T. on October 30, 2018:

Can anyone send me in the direction of where there is a list of videos available to show at an open meeting of AA?