Basketball Diaries

5 Timeless Films About Addiction and Recovery


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Basketball Diaries

Watching movies about alcoholism and addiction can often be an eye-opening experience. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, or you’re simply curious to know about an addict’s plight, here are five classics that hit right at home.

1. The Basketball Diaries (1995)

When you've got a desire to sit down with a good movie and feel inspired, here are 5 must-watch classics that may even teach you a thing or two about recovery.

As an adaptation of musician Jim Carroll’s memoir, this coming of age film revolves around the true-to-life story of his teenage heroin addiction. Carroll, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, began using the drug at age 13—an experience that took a negative toll on his adolescent life. Whether it was stealing, lying or prostituting, Carroll did what he felt he needed to do to score more drugs and feed his addiction. The film shows a few graphic and violent scenes as Carroll ran the streets of New York City, but ultimately reveals how he ended up beating the heroin addiction to become a successful man. The movie is a great watch for both teens and adults.

2. Clean and Sober (1988)

This movie presents addiction through the eyes of wealthy real estate executive and drug addict Daryl Poynter. Played by actor Michael Keaton, Poynter wastes away almost $100,000 on his cocaine addiction and, upon threat of arrest, decides to voluntarily check himself into rehab. The film does a great job depicting how life can be for a recovering addict, conveying its many ups and downs. Spotlighting the first 30 days of Poynter’s recovery, those who watch this film can get a good sense of what the beginning days of recovery may look like.

3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

If you have struggled with severe addiction, you’ll find that this film hits close to home. It tells the story of John O’Brien, a suicidal, end-stage alcoholic headed to Las Vegas to drink himself into oblivion. O’Brien, played by actor Nicolas Cage, gets canned from his job, sells everything he owns and decides to end his life gambling and drinking. While there, he develops a relationship with Sera, a prostitute. Though the two hold a stable relationship at first, their behaviors soon frustrate each other and O’Brien indeed ultimately ends up drinking himself to death. This film opens the audience’s eyes to see how devastating alcoholism can truly be.

4. 28 Days (2000)

In this film, actress Sandra Bullock plays Gwen Cummins, a recovering alcoholic who spends 28 days in rehab. Cummins is a writer who enjoyed drinking and partying, until her drunken behavior at her sister’s wedding unexpectedly gives her a cold, hard slap of what’s become her reality. She heads to a 28 day rehab where she finds herself contending with strict rules, a peculiar mix of people and her own resistance to change. However, a counselor is finally able to break through her shell and show her that she’s a good person well capable of evolving for the better.

5. When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

Actress Meg Ryan plays the role of an alcoholic wife who spends a great deal of time living in denial. Her addiction has made her marriage shaky and her drunken behaviors have negatively affected those around her. As she struggles through her personal issues, her husband is forced to take on the role as primary caregiver of their two children, whom Ryan neglected during her drunken binges. Finally, after a series of trying times and negative experiences, she succumbs to the fact that she is an alcoholic and agrees to attend detox.

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