What are the best addiction documentaries out today? Thanks to popular culture’s positive portrayal of drug culture, it is understandable why many young adults may be influenced to join the scene. Seeing movies in which their favorite actors enjoy themselves while under the influence of drugs and alcohol can be enough to make an impressionable teen believe that partaking in these activities will lead to the same outcome in their own lives. Much of mainstream media portrays drug and alcohol consumption as a social norm and in some cases, a necessity for popularity, happiness, and success.
The danger of this portrayal lies in the fact that it rarely depicts the negative side effects and subsequent consequences associated with drug and alcohol use. Popular movies and music focus on the perceived benefits of substance use without highlighting the downsides. And when consequences are depicted, they are often portrayed as humorous and the punch line of a good night, rather than the dangerous, sometimes deadly reality they can actually be. This approach to substance use misinforms impressionable teens and disguises a growing concern about substance abuse becoming an inherent part of young adulthood. So, if someone is looking to see what addiction is really like, where should they turn. Check out this list of the best addiction documentaries available today and read more about pop cultures influence on substance abuse.
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The Best Addiction Documentaries to Watch
With the increase of movies and music that glorify drug and alcohol use, it can seem difficult to find realistic depictions of substance abuse in the media. Fortunately, with increased accessibility to streaming services, a plethora of engaging, informative documentaries detailing the realities of addiction are available with just the click of a button.
- Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery: As a popular actor who has played iconic roles in which his character uses drugs or alcohol, Russell Brand’s depiction of his real-life struggles with drug and alcohol addiction are jarring. Brand used a variety of substances on a daily basis including alcohol, marijuana, speed, cocaine, crack, and heroin. After being told that if he continued on this path his future would be death, jail, or an asylum within six months, Brand took action to change his life. The documentary discusses addiction as a disease that is largely misunderstood by users, non-users, and the government alike. In it, he argues that addiction must be treated as a medical condition rather than a criminal issue and explores alternatives to common “cures” for the problem.
- Marijuana: A Second Class Addiction: With the growing movement to legalize marijuana across the United States, this documentary highlights the misconception of marijuana being a non-addictive substance. The documentary intimately follows David Goldenkranz, a 22-year-old marijuana addict attempting to navigate sobriety in a society that largely views marijuana as a recreational pastime. Facing ridicule from friends regarding his decision to quit using marijuana, Goldenkraz finds that despite his efforts, it is difficult to escape the influence of marijuana. This documentary does not seek to tackle the question of whether or not marijuana should be legalized; rather, it shares many viewpoints including those of advocates for the legalization of marijuana and those of individuals who have entered into treatment for marijuana addiction.
- Kids on Ice: This documentary follows the alarming development of addiction to methamphetamines among kids in rural Australia. Meth is a highly addictive drug that goes by a variety of street names including ice, glass, and shards. In small, close-knit communities, the meth industry is wreaking havoc and rendering law enforcement nearly powerless to control it. This documentary highlights the substantial growth of meth addiction in this region and does not hesitate to share the dark realities of addiction. Struggling with resources, counselors are forced to turn away addicts as young as 14-years-old in need of treatment. Perhaps the most troubling and eye-opening element of the documentary is its portrayal of the addicts themselves. The film shows how over time casual use and experimentation leaves kids experiencing violent outbursts, broken relationships, and engagement with criminal activities in order to manage lives that have largely lost a sense of purpose or reasoning.
- Dope Sick Love: This HBO documentary takes on a unique perspective to show the realities of a heroin-addicted couple living in New York City. The film offers no narration or interviews; it simply follows the couple, like a third-eye, and observes them in their routines. From acquiring heroin, to shooting up, to impersonating cops in order to rob others, the film leaves no stone unturned and does not turn a blind eye from even the most horrifying moments. The film depicts the cyclical nature of addiction in which the couples’ entire lives revolve around getting and using more heroin. Despite the obstacles they may face, every effort seems to be well worth it for the next high.
- Oxycontin: Time Bomb: Chronic pain is an epidemic that affects millions of people worldwide. The introduction of Oxycontin in the medical community has helped countless individuals regain quality of life and better manage their pain, but it has simultaneously introduced a new frontier in addiction. The success of the drug is unrivaled in the industry and much of this is due to alliances within the medical community that turns doctors into spokespeople, making large amounts of money by advocating for the drug in public forums. Although Oxycontin has brought a great deal of relief for many, it has also contributed to significant increases in drug dependencies, alarmingly high rates of overdose, and increased recreational use.
- Overtaken: This gripping documentary focuses on the stories of teens who have experienced near-death situations due to drug abuse. The stories shared are from teens who do not fit stereotypes one often associates with substance abuse. Star athletes, private school students, teens with high GPAs, high schoolers involved in student government, and recipients of scholarships—all are susceptible to peer pressure and the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Students in this documentary tell chilling tales of overdoses, comas, and loss of control. From prescription drugs to marijuana to alcohol, the teens in this documentary gradually fell deeper into the grips of addiction and now share their stories with viewers.
- Ben: Diary of a Heroin Addict: This documentary tells the story of Ben, a man who came from a middle-class family, was a Boy Scout, played in the school orchestra, and grew up in a loving environment. Ben had an upbringing that set him up for success, but despite this, he eventually succumbed to a lifestyle of heroin addiction. Shooting up as many as four times a day, Ben kept a video diary during his last months, detailing his method of abuse and his attempts to stop. The documentary is a very raw and gritty depiction of the effects of heroin abuse on a person’s body. Ben’s body began to break down, and his veins were rendered useless, leading him to inject heroin into his groin. This intimate documentary depicts troubling moments, including phone conversations in which he lies about being clean as he mixes his next hit. Ben’s motivation was to show the true nature of addiction and how it took over his entire life.
Pop Culture’s Influence on Substance Abuse
Drug and alcohol abuse is often glorified in movies and is a constant presence at teen parties. In most movies, binge drinking and experimentation with drugs is a comedic interjection rather than an act that carries with it potentially dangerous consequences. Although there may be the occasional scene in which characters must face the troubling results of substance abuse, these are often minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Characters escape with few to no consequences and often lead productive, happy lives despite their experience with drugs and alcohol.
Movies like Superbad share the story of misfit teens looking to become popular, get the girls, and have a good time while doing it. They engage in risky behaviors, lie, and manipulate others to throw a huge party just to impress their peers. While the movie chooses to display moments of comedy such as drinking too much and throwing up in front of the girl who is the object of desire, this light-hearted depiction of binge drinking as simply an embarrassing moment in front of a girl minimizes the real risks associated with the behavior. In many cases, movies show embarrassing moments as the onlyl risk of substance use, instead of portraying the very real possibility of alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, or an alcohol-related accident.
Music also contributes to the misrepresentation of drugs and alcohol in pop culture. Celebrities such as Lil Wayne, Miley Cyrus, and countless others popularize substance abuse through anthems about getting high and partying. Drugs such as sizzurp and Molly have gained significant attention due to the influence of the music industry and songs that glorify their use. While an individual may listen to these songs and not feel consciously impacted by the messages they deliver, the revalence of these themes in popular music may cause an individual to believe that substance abuse is the norm and generally accepted by the majority of their peers. This can lead to an individual feeling subconscious pressure to conform to what they perceive to be the norm, which can result in struggles with addiction.