Jan 14, 2020 | By Patrick Bailey

What TV And Movies Get Right (And What They Get Wrong) About Addiction and Recovery.

Addiction Resources Recovery

Drugs and alcohol have a sexy reputation in movies and Hollywood. While some movies portray the truths about addiction, others glamorize substance use. In many films, good looking people are seen getting drunk, snorting lines, and partying the night away, with little consequence later on. Most movie viewers are watching films for entertainment, rather than to be educated about the perils of addiction. Movies typically show either a pumped-up version of most people’s drug and alcohol use, or a light version of addiction that leaves out the true pains and long-term effects of substance use. Neither of these shows the truth of what substance use is actually like for most people who struggle with drugs and/or alcohol.

While some people who suffer from addiction experience highs and lows like those shown in the movies, for most, substance abuse is a multiple-year decline that may or may not end in hitting rock bottom. This doesn’t lend itself to the glitz and glamour that viewers want to see in movies. The realities of addiction are a stark contrast to the way popular media portrays substance use and abuse.

What Media Gets Right

That’s not to say that all popular media misses the mark. Some popular films hit the nail on the head when it comes to accurate, real-life portrayals of substance abuse. Let’s take a look at some of the popular movies and tv shows today that do a great job of showing what addiction can be like in real-life scenarios.

Breaking Bad


The popular AMC drama showcases Walter White, a high school history teacher turned meth cook and his former student and business partner, Jesse Pinkman. While Walter never becomes addicted to meth, Jesse struggles with the ins and outs of substance abuse. The show follows Jesse through the highs and lows of use, from the friends and the parties to losing friends, family, and money due to addiction. Breaking Bad also shows Jesse’s repeated attempts at rehab and sobriety, correctly portraying addiction as a lifelong battle.



A&E’s docu-series follows addicts and their loved ones as they navigate the complicated water of drug use and abuse. While the show sometimes does have a happy ending, with the person in question agreeing to attend treatment, there are plenty of episodes in which the opposite is true. Like Breaking Bad, Intervention shows the gruesome realities of addiction and doesn’t glamorize what it’s like to go through the hard work of recovery.

It’s important for TV shows and movies to accurately portray the horrors of addiction. When people who are susceptible to addiction see characters they admire using drugs and alcohol, it’s easy for them to begin to rationalize that it’s ok for them to do the same. It’s not necessary to remove drug and alcohol use from popular media, but showing the actual effects of these substances is key to informing the public of the damage drugs and alcohol can do to their lives.

…And What It Gets Wrong

While there are some TV shows and movies that get the realities of drug use right, others get it wrong. Let’s take a look at two pieces of popular media that do little to fix the public’s view of addiction.

Wolf of Wall Street

Paramount Pictures

In this 2014 Blockbuster hit starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, viewers see the main characters snorting cocaine- and lots of it. While this movie does not have a happy ending, it successfully glamorizes drug use. Cocaine users are at the top of their game, and using cocaine only pushes them further into the ecstasy of success.

Reality TV

Urban Elective

Reality television shows are a new phenomenon over the past twenty years and many of them have one factor in common – alcohol use. Contestants or participants are often placed in a house loaded with cameras, without books, magazines, tv, radios, or ways to access the world outside of the house. While common touch points of reality are missing, the houses are loaded with alcohol. Participants begin to drink due to lack of anything else to do, and over-the-top behavior typically ensues.

Reality show producers know exactly what they’re doing by placing participants in these situations. While most people try to avoid drama in their daily lives, it drives ratings. Viewers love to watch the drama of others. It’s hard to say exactly why people enjoy this type of entertainment – perhaps, watching others lose control makes people feel more in control of their own lives.

When TV shows and movies show inaccurate portrayals of how drugs and alcohol can affect lives, it becomes easy for people who are thinking about using these substances to rationalize how their experience will be similar to what the see at the movies or on TV. For media companies to do their part in healing the addiction crisis in the United States, they must stop glamorizing addiction.

Taking The Glamour Out Of Addiction

If you or a loved one are suffering from a substance abuse problem, you know that the realities of alcohol and drug abuse are nothing like what you see on the big and small screens. It’s not cool or sexy to struggle with addiction – it’s a medical problem that needs to be treated. While addiction can seem hopeless, recovery is possible. Contact Sober Nation today at: 866-317-7050.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

24/7 Rehab Help (866) 207-7436 Sponsored | Who Answers

Contact Sober Nation's Sponsored Hotline

If you are seeking drug and alcohol related addiction rehab for yourself or a loved one, the SoberNation.com hotline is a confidential and convenient solution.

Calls to any general hotline (non-facility) will be answered by Treatment Addiction Solutions

Alternatives to finding addiction treatment or learning about substance:

If you wish to contact a specific rehab facility then find a specific rehab facility using our treatment locator page or visit SAMHSA.gov.

To learn more about how Sober Nation operates, please contact us