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What We’re Watching: Addiction in Shows and Movies

Addiction and recovery are often part of the media we watch for entertainment. Here are a few shows and movies that include addiction.

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In this article

As people who work in the field of recovery, many of us in recovery ourselves, the Workit Health team often discuss portrayals of addiction and recovery in the media. Representation in fiction can help us feel seen, give us characters to connect to, and sometimes give us hope or determination for our own futures. Recently, I asked a few coworkers to share their thoughts on some shows and movies that include topics of addiction.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, as there is a TON of media that includes substance use disorder. But here are a few that we thought of:

Television shows that feature addiction and recovery

Show: Loudermilk

Max says:

The main character of Loudermilk is Sam Loudermilk, a cranky Gen X music critic who is 4 years sober, played by Office Space favorite Ron Livingston. So naturally, I think Sam would enjoy this critique from a fellow person in recovery!

Sam is the group leader of Sober Friends, “an AA ripoff” as described in the show. The three available seasons on Netflix allow you a sneak peek into the Seattle Recovery scene as told by Sam and his friends (who are in various stages of active addiction and sobriety). Loudermilk is billed as a comedy which is NOT my favorite genre, but after it was recommended to me by so many friends in recovery, how could I refuse?

I’ll say Loudermilk grew on me. At first, I rolled my eyes at the cliches, especially in the first season—for example, the downtrodden recovery group all seated in a circle and filled with miserable people. Often the characters are seen as “just one drink away” from losing it all, without a lot of the complexities that real recovery entails. The characters are all men, except for one 20-something woman named Claire who befriends Sam and is allowed in the men’s group. At times, the show goes into bizarre storylines only to drop them at a moment’s notice. But by the second and third season of Loudermilk, the show finally gets in a groove and we get to know the characters more—and even grow to love them.

Though Loudermilk irked me in some ways, what it is most successful at is getting folks to talk about recovery. In that, Loudermilk is a great accomplishment. After and during most episodes, my partner and I had long conversations about the show, discussing parts that felt both authentic and waaaaaaay off the mark. As a huge fan of Mad TV, it was nice to see Will Sasso play Ben, though his recovery plotline is often borderline unhinged. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure how a recovery comedy would go–but I think it balances out the typical “addiction tragedy” storylines of shows like Euphoria. Because ya know what? Recovery is funny sometimes and I’m glad we now have multiple options of recovery narratives to choose from.

Do you recommend it? Yes

Show: Euphoria

Chris says:

Euphoria is a drama that centers around Rue a teen drug addict, and her recovery journey. The show starts with Rue returning home from rehab and learning to adapt to life sober. We also get to meet many complex characters that surround Rue. Euphoria deals with heavy topics such as drug use, relapse, sexual trauma, self-harm, and domestic violence to name a few.

Although the show at times is very graphic and hard to watch, I find this to be the most realistic portrayal of addiction and recovery I have seen. I was able to relate to Rue and the other characters so easily and could pinpoint the same emotions they experienced.

The most stand-out episode for me was an episode that only had Rue and her 12-step sponsor conversing about Rue’s sobriety. It took me right back to the many times I was across from my sponsor scared, nervous, depressed, and angry all at at once. The only thing I STRESS before watching Euphoria is that it can be very graphic for dealing with such heavy topics. Just remember you can always push pause and self-care.

Do you recommend it? Yes

Show: Elementary

Alaine says:

One of many Sherlock Holmes updates, this version positions Sherlock as a person in addiction recovery and Dr. Joan Watson (initially) as his sober companion. While the individual episodes are usually about solving mysteries, Sherlock’s addiction and recovery are important to his character development and to many plotlines. He participates in a 12-step program, and both the meetings and his relationship with his sponsor feel authentic.

I really appreciate the way Sherlock’s recovery is presented as ongoing, never a simple fix. When he relapses, it matters and has consequences, but that doesn’t stop him from renewing his commitment to recovery.

Also, I just like mysteries.

Do you recommend it? Yes

Addiction and recovery in movies

Film: Memory (2023)

Ashley says:

Memory is an odd watch–but, its represention of a person in recovery from alcohol is really well done. Jessica Chastain is the leading lady playing Sylvia, a social worker for a group home for adults who are differently-abled. The movie opens with Sylvia at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that she has her young daughter attend with her. Sylvia orders water when offered champagne at a high school reunion. There is also this very frank conversation with her family when Sylvia’s young niece repeatedly comments and questions the family about Sylvia’s lack of beer consumption. Sylvia has experienced past trauma that is repeatedly mentioned in the film so please watch to your own level of comfort.

Do you recommend it? Yes

Film: The Beekeeper (2024)

Ashley says:

The Beekeper is one of those Jason Statham action movies that seems like every other Jason Statham action movie. Yet, something so amazingly subtle stood out to me clear as day. Jason’s character, Mr. Clay, is offered an alcoholic beverage twice in the film. Mr. Clay refuses twice! The movie never explicitly states that Mr. Clay is in recovery, however, the sheer act of the star and main butt-whooping protagonist saying no to alcohol lit me up with pride! It’s my headcanon that Mr. Clay must stay sober if he’s going to effectively disassemble societal corruption with his bare, honey-farming hands.

It is very much an action film though, so if you’re not into that sort of film—feel free to pass.

Do you recommend it? It’s complicated.

Film: Waves (2019)

Chris says:

If you go online and read any synopsis for the film Waves, you would have no idea what the plot of this movie is about. Although the storyline is not directly about addiction or recovery, anyone who has dealt with addiction personally or has a loved one who has could relate. The story has themes of addiction, generational trauma, toxic masculinity, and grief.

The story of Waves follows a black family’s son and his fall into addiction after a sports injury. We see every family member’s journey through grief after the son was involved in a shocking tragedy. As a person who has dealt with addiction for years, I know the repercussions (the rock bottoms) can lead to irreversible damage. The movie portrays how quickly addiction can get a hold of you and throw you into a tailspin. The true stand out for me was seeing the family deal with the five stages of grief. When I was in active addiction I was so selfish and couldn’t even comprehend the wreckage I caused for my loved ones. This movie made me re-assess the pain I had caused to the most important people in my life. Very few movies relating to addiction center around a person of color. As a part of the BIPOC community, I appreciated that.

Waves are also visually stunning with great music, I do highly recommend watching (with tissues in hand).

Do you recommend it? Yes

Film: Beautiful Boy (2018)

Chris says:

Beautiful Boy = WOW. This was a very realistic viewpoint of a father maneuvering through his son’s addiction. The movie does depict quite a bit of graphic drug use, which did make me uncomfortable at times.

The emotions that the father expressed throughout the film were done so well. It brought me back to seeing my own family dealing with anger, sadness, depression, and so much fear. That father supports his son through multiple different treatment forms throughout the movie.

Watching the son be dishonest, selfish, angry, and truly unhappy with life was hard to watch. It brought me right back to those same feelings and reminded me of so many situations that I had locked away in my brain. I highly recommend this movie. This was BY FAR the BEST depiction of addiction and the ripple effect it has on families.

Do you recommend it? Yes

So there are our thoughts on just a few TV shows and movies that deal with substance use disorders. If none of them are to your taste, I promise that there are so many more to choose from!

Alaine Sepulveda is a content strategist in recovery from alcohol. She believes that engaging people and sharing stories with them allows us to spread knowledge, and to help others in the path to recovery. She holds an MA in Communication Studies from New Mexico State University.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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