A well-crafted, relatable and unique story is eye-opening. It taps into our emotions and moves us in ways we never thought possible. Whether its joy, motivation, sadness, or an outright scare, a good story can shift the way we perceive or do things.
Movies are great sources of such stories. Those that feature drugs, substance abuse, and addiction, for instance, may tell stories through the eyes of an addict (or the people in their lives). Watching such movies play out can build your understanding of the nature of dependency and the beauty of recovery. It may also help you feel less alone – and hopefully, work towards changing your life.
In this article, we will highlight the must-see box office movies around drugs and addiction. Most of these films feature stuff that happen in real life. So they’re a true story and a depiction of how substance abuse can send you in a downward spiral. We hope that these movies will serve as an eye-opener and potentially help you deviate from using drugs or alcohol.
From Trainspotting to Less Than Zero, here is a list of critically acclaimed drug addiction movies that will scare you straight from drugs:
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Based on: Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting
Trainspotting is a brutal – often funny, other times bone-chilling – depiction of drug addiction in Edinburgh. It’s not your average movie and definitely not for the faint of heart, but an entertaining and realistic reminder of the horrors of substance abuse.
The film revolves around Renton’s struggle with heroin addiction and how it influences his actions. It raises interesting questions about drug addiction, its causes, and what it means to lead a clean life. From time to time, Renton ruminates on junkies’ mindsets and their drive for the next hit. He commits various crimes and harms those around him because of the addiction. But the movie also shows images that help viewers understand the forces behind his actions. It will leave you sympathizing with him despite his wrongdoings.
Make no mistake. Trainspotting doesn’t glamorize drug use. It mostly shows how deep addicts will sink and the harsh living conditions they’ll endure as long as they continue to abuse substances. It also shows how addiction affects the people around them. One particularly memorable scene is when Ewan McGregor’s character goes through heroin withdrawal symptoms. But more terrible than beds and toilets full of feces is the death of baby Dawn. Dawn dies from neglect as her mother is lost in a heroin-induced stupor.
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Based on: Hubert Selby Jr.’s Requiem for a Dream
We cannot talk about movies that will scare you straight from drugs and not mention Requiem for a Dream. It is one of the most popular yet depressing drug films that you’ll ever watch. Requiem for a Dream follows four characters whose lives are gradually destroyed by their various addictions and the emotional void they’re trying to fill. The film parallels the lives of a lonely, widowed Sara, her sweet aimless son, Harry, his girlfriend, Marion, and his drug dealer friend Tyrone.
Protagonist Harry is your typical heroin junkie who’s trying to get off drugs with the help of cocaine-crazed Marion and Tyrone. Meanwhile, his mother, who learns that she’ll appear on a TV game show, desperately wants to lose weight so she can fit into her prized red dress. She eventually ends up hooked on diet pills.
Requiem for a Dream involves amphetamine and heroin use and escalates into electroconvulsive treatment, sexual humiliation, incarnation, and amputation. It ends with these characters in a sad state that will make you never want to do drugs again.
Starring: Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine Zeta-Jones
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Based on: Simon Moore’s Traffik
Traffic glosses over the ravages of drug use, the pain of withdrawal, and the long journey that awaits those who seek addiction treatment. It also looks at the United States’ war on drugs through a series of interconnected stories.
The film depicts the war on drugs as seen through the eyes of four characters. A conservative judge appointed by the president to spearhead the war on drugs but later learns that his teenage daughter is addicted to cocaine. A jailed drug baron’s wife tries to save her wealthy husband’s drug business. And Two DEA agents trying to protect an informant. The film shows cooperation between US and Mexican authorities and compromised because of corruption and betrayal.
One of the most touching scenes comes from a character who notes that 100,000 white people drive through black neighborhoods searching for drugs at any given time in the US. He also points out that a dealer who makes about $200 in two hours is not motivated to find employment.
Then there’s the judge’s daughter, Caroline, who tries crack cocaine for the first time at a party and gets hooked. She quickly falls through the family’s and society’s safety net. Traffic is a scary story that gives a clear glimpse into the world of drugs, the drug trade, and how the laws are sidestepped.
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, and Michael Peña
Directed by: Dan Rush
Based on: Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting
Based on: Raymond Carver’s short story, Why Don’t We Dance?
Our list of movies that will scare you straight from drugs cannot be complete without Everything Must Go. In the film, the longtime salesman Nick Halsey is no longer at the top of his game. He’s an alcoholic who ends up jobless after showing up drunk to work too many times. Coincidentally, he also loses his wife, money, and home on the same day.
Stunned by the severity of his situation, he decides to hosts a massive yard sale that becomes his unique survival strategy. None of his neighbors are willing to help, save for Kenny and Samantha. With his drinking habits, Nick brings Samantha down with a judgmental attack, causing her to flee. He tries his luck with a high school friend, Delilah, but the old magic isn’t there. With everything falling apart, Nick must re-evaluate his ways.
Despite being an American black comedy-drama, Everything Must Go is a serious and sobering film about a man (Nick) slipping over the brink of life. He’s the type of alcoholics who break your heart. Those that mean to do well, but alcohol gets in the way.
Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Marek Kanievska
Based on: Brett Easton Ellis’s novel Less Than Zero
The satirical horror of Less Than Zero is what gives this story its seductive force. Its premise is simple. Clay, a college freshman, returns home to LA for the winter break. His ex-girlfriend, flourishing model Blair has started to abuse cocaine. But she isn’t as hooked as her new boyfriend, Julian, who is also Clay’s childhood friend. Clay tries to help Blair and Julian, but Rip, a callous dealer, wouldn’t let him because Julian owes him.
The movie follows the life of spoiled, wealthy young Los Angeles high school graduates. Julian is in debt to Rip and is forced to pay what he owes with sexual favors. Clay tries to help, but the problem is it’s impossible to rescue someone who’s hooked on drugs. You can plead with them to no avail and lecture them to no point. Blair is evidently out of control and headed for the bottom.
We hope you enjoyed our list of 5 movies that will scare you straight from drugs. While many Hollywood films glamorize drug abuse, these definitely show the darker side of addiction and substance abuse.