How Today’s Movies Are Humanizing Addiction

January 15th, 2019

Many people learn about new ideas, experiences, and stories from film and television shows. While media representation may seem like a frivolous discussion, experts believe that film and television have the power to sway the attitudes of viewers.

When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, many people without firsthand experience base their assumptions on portrayals of substance abuse on the screen. Though many films have historically portrayed addiction in a negative manner, many recent works have begun to humanize and raise awareness about substance abuse.

Inaccurate Media Representations: The War on Drugs

One of the most famous eras of demonizing addiction, particularly drug addiction, was the War on Drugs. Beginning in the 1970s, this policy decision came as a response from the United States government to a large influx of dangerous drugs into the country. Several government bodies, including the United Nations, ultimately stated that this initiative failed. Many people believe that the War on Drugs accomplished more harm than good during its time.

Instead of assisting people seeking help for substance abuse, news programs across the country broadcasted terrifying stories about the dangers of addiction and the people who use drugs. Thousands of people suffered the unintended consequences of this era, leading to imprisonment, increased stigma, and overdose deaths.

While addiction is a major issue and the risks associated with substance abuse need to be known, this approach led many Americans to believe that addicted people were to blame. Instead of seeking help, drug users became increasingly stigmatized, marginalized, and excluded. Without adequate humanizing representation, many people continue to believe these harmful truths about people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Why Positive Film Representations Matter

Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a persistent problem throughout the United States, however, the majority of the public does not have direct experience with substance abuse. Most of what these people know about addiction comes from the television shows, news programs, and movies they watch. If the overwhelming majority of film representation portrays addicted people as bad or violent, then that attitude starts to creep into real life.

Many films still participate in this practice today. Critics push back against many portrayals of drug and alcohol addiction for multiple reasons, including:

• Characters with addiction possessing negative personality traits, such as overly violent tendencies or bigotry

• Portrayal of characters with addiction with no personality or humanity at all

• Portrayal of addiction as a personal choice, rather than a medical dependency

• Tragic endings for the addicted characters with no redemption

• Portrayal of addiction as a life sentence with no path to recovery

• Portrayal of addiction as hopeless

These representations do more harm than good to people struggling with addiction, as well as to the people who love them. The more that people believe substance abuse is a quality of a bad person, the less people will seek help for addiction.

That’s why humanizing, uplifting stories about drug and alcohol addiction matter – the more people that see substance abuse as a medical condition that requires intervention, the more comfortable others who are suffering will feel to seek help.

Thankfully, many recent films have taken extra steps to portray substance abuse in a humanizing light to raise awareness about the issue. Hopefully, other films that deal with addiction will drop the negative tropes and follow their examples. Keep reading to see some recent examples of films that are showcasing addiction in a real and moving way.

Beautiful Boy, 2018

Starring Steve Carrell and breakout actor Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy is the story of a father caring for his teenage son who is struggling with multiple drug addictions. Based on the true experiences of New York Times writer David Sheff, the film follows David and his son Nic as they work through addiction together.

Throughout the film, David and Nic follow the rollercoaster of substance abuse that many people are familiar with. Nic deals with depression, anger, mood swings, and multiple rehab appointments before finding a treatment plan that works for him. The film handles relapse in a smart and respectful way, painting Nic as a person who needs help rather than a villain.

At the heart of it all is David, who is willing to practice patience until his son receives the care he needs. Overall, the film provides an accurate and somber portrayal of addiction with a hopeful message. Family love and support is crucial to recovery, and Beautiful Boy teaches this lesson well.

Ben Is Back, 2018

This film portrays another parent-child relationship and recovery story. Julia Roberts stars as Holly Burns, a mother whose son Ben, played by Lucas Hedges, suddenly reappears after time in a rehab facility. This film follows Holly and Ben over a 24-hour period. Throughout the film, we see flashbacks to Ben’s past and learn more about his journey to recovery.

The film portrays the darker parts of addiction without presenting the issue as hopeless. We see how Ben began his addiction and the circumstances that led to his current situation. We see Ben visit his recovery groups and practice necessary coping mechanisms. When the film discusses relapse, we do not see it as the end for Ben. Instead, the film leaves us with a sense of hope for Ben’s recovery and a greater understanding of the outside pressures that contribute to addiction.

Moonlight, 2016

The Best Picture Winner at the 2017 Academy Awards, Moonlight presents a more somber, yet human, portrayal of addiction in low-income communities. This film follows young Chiron as he grows up, played by multiple actors along the way. We see his difficult childhood surrounded by people who use and sell drugs to survive. As he grows up, Chiron falls into the same behaviors while grappling with romantic feelings for a close friend.

Moonlight does not treat drug addiction as a plot point – instead, addiction is something in the background that affects other parts of a person’s life. At its core, Moonlight is a love story. Moonlight gives its characters the same tender, human treatment as any other love story would. While the ending of the film leaves many questions unanswered, we feel hopeful for Chiron’s future – and leave with a better understanding of addiction experiences.

Seek Help Today

Film portrayals are important to help people understand the experiences of people addicted to drugs and alcohol. However, films are not the only answer. People who recognize the signs of addiction in their loved ones need to practice patience and help them seek professional treatment.

Are you or a loved one struggling with drug and alcohol addiction? Windmill Wellness Ranch can help. Our private residential facility in Canyon Lake, Texas offers holistic treatment programs that focus on physical, mental, and spiritual recovery.

Contact Windmill Wellness Ranch today to learn more about our programs and how to enroll.