Best Films About Addiction and Sobriety

Naomi Carr
Written by Naomi Carr on 12 October 2023

Mental illnesses, particularly alcohol and substance use disorders, are becoming increasingly discussed and represented. However, there is still a great deal of stigma, judgment, and misunderstanding surrounding these topics.

Movies can help to reduce this stigma, by providing realistic and sensitive representations that allow audiences to connect and sympathize with the characters facing the challenges of addiction and recovery

These dramatic, harrowing, and sometimes comedic portrayals can increase the audience’s understanding of the realities of addiction and recovery and the impact these events have on the individual and their loved ones. 

This list is a small selection of some of the most popular and acclaimed movies that tackle the challenging topics of drug addiction, alcoholism, and recovery. 

Best Films About Addiction and Sobriety

Best films about drug addiction

There are many films that deal with the difficult subject matter of substance abuse and addiction; dealing with the harrowing part drugs and alcohol can play in a person's life. Here are our top picks for films that shine a light on addiction.

Trainspotting (1996)

IMDB rating: 8.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 90%

Considered a cult classic, Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, is an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name. It revolves around the lives of heroin addicts Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his friends.

The movie is a darkly humorous depiction of drug abuse and addiction, with both comedic and disturbing scenes.

Trainspotting is a well-loved movie by audiences and critics, with a sequel, T2 Trainspotting, that was released in 2017. Trainspotting was nominated for and won several awards, including a BAFTA Film Award for Best Screenplay – Adapted and an Oscar nomination for Best Writing.

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

IMDB rating: 7.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 97%

Drugstore Cowboy, directed by Gus Van Sant, is based on the autobiography of the same name by James Fogle. The movie is a gritty and disturbing representation of the lives of a group of drug addicts who travel around robbing pharmacies and hospitals. 

After his friend overdoses, Bob (Matt Dillon) attempts to get clean, only to find that it’s not easy to leave the lifestyle behind.

The movie was well-received by audiences and critics and won several awards, including awards for Best Screenplay.

Requiem For A Dream (2000)

IMDB rating: 8.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 78%

Requiem For A Dream, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a harrowing depiction of drug addiction that leaves a lasting mark on the audience. Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) begins taking pills that will help her lose weight, to which she develops an addiction that severely impacts her mental health.

Her son Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), along with his friend and girlfriend, also develop addictions. Their lives are shown to gradually fall apart as their heroin use causes horrific outcomes for each of them.

Despite being severely disturbing and, at times, difficult to watch, Requiem For A Dream is popular with audiences and critics alike. The movie was nominated for and won numerous awards, including a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Ellen Burstyn.

Traffic (2000)

IMDB rating: 7.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 93%

Traffic is a drama and thriller, directed by Steven Soderbergh, focused on the various perspectives of the illegal drug trade. The story involves the interconnected stories of a judge who is attempting to fight the war on drugs, his drug-addicted daughter, DEA agents, a Mexican policeman tackling the country’s cocaine cartels, and the wife of an imprisoned drug kingpin.

Traffic was well received by audiences and critics and seen as a captivating depiction of the realities and impacts of drug trafficking. The movie won over 70 awards, with numerous more nominations. It won 4 Oscars, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Benicio Del Toro and Best Director for Steven Soderbergh.

Best films about alcoholism

Alcohol addiction affects millions of people around world each year. These films take a look at the damaging nature of alcohol abuse and how it can quietly take over someones life without them realising.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

IMDB rating: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 97%

The Lost Weekend, directed by Billy Wilder, is a frank depiction of the dark realities of alcohol addiction and the consequences of binge drinking. Writer, Don Birnam (Ray Milland), falls off the wagon despite the best efforts of his girlfriend and brother, leading to despair and delirium.

The movie was very successful and acclaimed, with several awards and nominations. It won four Oscars and won Best Feature Film at Cannes Film Festival.

A Star is Born (2018)

IMDB rating: 7.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 90%

A Star is Born, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper, is the fourth adaptation of the 1937 movie of the same name. It tells the romantic and dramatic story of a musician (Cooper) struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, who falls in love with a rising star (Lady Gaga). As her career takes off, his success depletes as he battles with his addictions.

A Star is Born was immensely successful, with over 280 award nominations and 95 wins, including 8 Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for “Shallow”.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

IMDB rating: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 91%

Leaving Las Vegas, written and directed by Mike Figgis, was adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by John O’Brien. It tells the heartbreaking story of a man (Nicolas Cage) who loses his job and his family because of his alcohol addiction and plans to end his life. 

The movie is a powerful and dark depiction of the dire consequences of addiction and its impact on mental health.

Leaving Las Vegas won and was nominated for several awards, including an Oscar for Best Actor for Nicolas Cage and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Elisabeth Shue.

Flight (2012)

IMDB rating: 7.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 77%

Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis, tells the story of a pilot with an alcohol and substance use disorder. After crash-landing a plane and saving the lives of almost all of his passengers, Whip (Denzel Washington) is declared a hero. However, he then has to come to terms with his alcohol addiction and substance abuse as his sobriety while flying the plane comes into question.

Flight is a provocative and dramatic portrayal of the effects of alcohol abuse. The movie was nominated for and won many awards, including two Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay.

Best films about recovery

Not all films focus on the harrowing aspects of addiction alone, some look at the highs and lows of the journey to recovery as well. Here are our top picks for films focusing on recovery.

Beautiful Boy (2018)

IMDB rating: 7.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 68%

Beautiful Boy, directed by Felix van Groeningen, is based on the memoirs of father and son David and Nic Sheff. It depicts the turbulent path of addiction and recovery faced by Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) and his father David (Steve Carell). 

Nic is taken to rehab by his father after discovering his drug use. Nic faces an addiction to various substances including methamphetamine and struggles with his recovery, regularly relapsing and spending further stints in rehab. The movie shows the realities of the long and challenging path to recovery and the desperate attempts of a father to help his son.

Beautiful Boy was nominated for and won several awards, including nominations for a Golden Globe and BAFTA for Timothée Chalamet for Best Supporting Actor.

Clean and Sober (1988)

IMDB rating: 6.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 53%

Clean and Sober, directed by Glenn Gordon Caron, tells the story of a man addicted to cocaine who decides to get sober after discovering a woman in his bed who has died of an overdose. Daryl Poynter (Michael Keaton) attends a rehab center, where he realizes he is an addict, and begins working through a 12-step program.

Clean and Sober demonstrates the steps and challenges faced on the path to sobriety and the power of hope and support in the recovery process.

The movie was fairly well-received by critics and Michael Keaton won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor for his performance. 

Smashed (2012)

IMDB rating: 6.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 83%

Smashed, directed by James Ponsoldt, is a semi-autobiographical story written by Ponsoldt and Susan Burke. It portrays a woman facing the harsh realities of alcohol and drug addiction and the severe consequences she must face.

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) endures disturbing and embarrassing events because of her addiction, before attending an AA meeting with a friend and changing her lifestyle. The movie is a sympathetic and truthful depiction of alcohol addiction and the impact of alcohol and recovery on the lives and relationships of those involved.

Smashed was nominated for several awards, including a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered.

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

IMDB rating: 6.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 84%

Rachel Getting Married, directed by Jonathan Demme, depicts Kym (Anne Hathaway) who has been in recovery for many years, with numerous stints in rehab. She returns to her family for her sister’s wedding, but her history of substance abuse and the associated destructive behaviors have impacted her relationships. 

The movie shows the toll that addiction can take on families, using drama and humor to tell the stories and emotions of the characters as Kym navigates the recovery process.

Rachel Getting Married won 19 awards, including several awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt, respectively.


  1. Van Sant, G. (1989). Drugstore Cowboy.
  2. Boyle, D. (1996). Trainspotting.
  3. Aronofsky, D. (2000). Requiem for a Dream.
  4. Soderbergh, S. (2000). Traffic.
  5. Wilder, B. (1945). The Lost Weekend.
  6. Cooper, B. (2018). A Star Is Born.
  7. Figgis, M. (1995). Leaving Las Vegas.
  8. Zemeckis, R. (2012). Flight.
  9. van Groeningen, F. (2018). Beautiful Boy.
  10. Gordon Caron, G. (1988). Clean and Sober.
  11. Ponsoldt, J. (2012). Smashed.
  12. Demme, J. (2008). Rachel Getting Married.

Activity History - Last updated: 23 November 2023, Published date:

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