Films about mental illness and addiction

Do you like to watch movies? I do. I especially like films that I can relate to; subjects like: drugs, alcohol, mental illness and Trauma. Considering how many millions of American’s suffer with substance abuse and mental illness, it’s not surprising that so many movies have been made about these topics.

Leaving Las Vegas

Depression, Alcoholism and Codependency

Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter who lost everything because of his drinking, arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. While there, he forms a relationship with a troubled prostitute. This film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel written by John O’Brien. Sadly, he never got to see his the movie as he committed suicide two weeks into the film’s production.

Scarface 

Drug Addiction (Cocaine, Heroin and Quaaludes)

This is a classic American Crime drama, about a determined Cuban immigrant who takes over a drug cartel. Things go bad when he succumbs to greed.  His drug use leads to deteriorated relationships and violence.

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Fight Club

Self-harm, Dissociate Identity Disorder and Substance Abuse

So bored with the, everyday grind of his job and lack of meaning in the world, the lead character develops a dissociative identity disorder.  He also suffers from insomnia. He decides to “take control” of his life and creates fight clubs across the country that wreak havoc on society. In the end, he is forced into a violent confrontation with his destructive alter-ego.

Silver Linings Playbook

Bipolar Disorder and Sex Addiction

This film follows Pat Solitano Jr., recently released from a mental health facility, through his struggles with bipolar disorder. During the course of this drama/comedy, he meets Tiffany Maxwell, an unemployed widow and well-known sex addict, and they form an unconventional bond. Their relationship forces them to examine themselves, and ultimately helps them move forward in life.

American Pyscho 

Antisocial Personality Disorder, Narcissism and Drug Abuse (Alcohol, MDMA and Marijuana)

Christian Bale plays the character of Patrick Bateman, a rich, young investment banker turned serial killer in Manhattan. This film explores the lavish culture of greed and narcissism in the 1980s. Though he seems to have it all: money, designer clothes, invitations to the most exclusive parties, his cravings turn him into a psychotic murderer.

Drugstore Cowboy 

Addiction (Morphine, Amphetamines, Cocaine, LSD, Alcohol and Oxycontin)

In this film, a crew of drug addicts support their habit by robbing hospitals and pharmacies. Matt Dillon stars in the lead role, playing the character of Bob Hughes. After a tragedy involving the crew, Hughes attempts to get sober during the course of the story. He learns it’s not as easy as he thought it would be.

The Deer Hunter 

PTSD

This is a heart-wrenching and gritty film about four friends from a working class town in Pennsylvania who enlist and leave for the Vietnam War. Three of the friends are captured and held in a brutal POW camp. Though they manage to survive, they are separated. The film follows their difficult lives after their escape.

Traffic

Drug Addiction (Heroin, Cocaine and Marijuana)

Traffic is a unique film because it examines the drug trade from several different angles; the traffickers, law enforcement, a politician and an addict. It shows the high stakes and high risks of the drug trade, as seen through a series of interrelated stories, some of which are highly personal and some of which are filled with intrigue and danger.

Mystic River 

PTSD (from sexual abuse and torture)

In 1975, in a Boston neighborhood, three boys are playing hockey when two sexual predators posing as cops abduct one of the boys, Dave. In present time, these boys, Jimmy, Sean and Dave, all live in the same neighborhood, though Dave, played by Tim Robbins, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder related to his sexual abduction and torture.

Binge watching alcoholism addiction
Want to watch more? Check out my other article on binge watching shows.

The Wolf of Wall Street 

Addiction (Cocaine, Alcohol and Quaaludes)

In 1987, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes an entry-level job at a Wall Street brokerage firm. By the early 1990s, he founds his own firm, Stratton Oakmont. Together with his trusted lieutenant (Jonah Hill) and a group of brokers, Belfort makes a huge fortune by defrauding wealthy investors out of millions. However, while Belfort and his crew partake in a hedonistic sex, drugs and thrills, the SEC and the FBI close in on his empire of excess.

What are some great ways to watch? I like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and iTunes ….

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30 thoughts on “Films about mental illness and addiction

  1. There are so many good films depicting these subjects. I had to wait for everyone else to leave the theater after watching Leaving Las Vegas. It hit home too much. Silver Linings Playbook I though, as a person with Bipolar Disorder, was somewhat watered down or based on someone who has mild symptoms. Everyone is different. For me it made it harder to explain to people why I’m not dancing and dating. Lol It was a rough time. You have to remind people that it is a movie. Not every place is like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Good thing!

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    1. The first movie I watched in sobriety (about Alcoholism) was an oldie “Of Wine and Roses”. I found it very disturbing because I had never observed the disease from a viewers perspective. Leaving Las Vegas was also very heavy for me. I did not see it in a movie theater, but I would have needed some time to myself too. There was a TV show that portrayed Bipolar disorder. It was called Black Box. If you have seen it, let me know what you think of the real-ness.

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      1. In Leaving Las Vegas it was when he went to the bank and his hands were shaking so bad he couldn’t sign his name. I had a bar I went to frequently, the bartender knew when I got there I wouldn’t be able to hold a bottle or mug. She would fill the mug, put a straw in it and push it under my chin so I could get to it without having to pick it up. It wasn’t until watching Leaving Las Vegas that it hit me just how bad I had gotten. The case of Black Label and pint of Ginger Flavored Brandy everyday probably should have been a clue but not when it’s the only thing easing the pain. I’ll check out Black Box. I’m always looking for movies and TV shows. Thank you for your kindness.

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    1. Good one! Angelia Jolie was so amazing in that film. I think it launched her career. Oh, I actually just looked it up and she won an academy award for the part – wow. Thanks for the suggestion. I am going to put it on my watch list, because I saw it a long time ago. It will feel new again.

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I just looked it up on my favorite entertainment source IMMDB. It says that Amazon Instant Video has the title. Our house is addicted to everything Amazon, so I already added it to our watch list. Thanks again.

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      1. Anytime, lady! It’s quite literally heroin chic if ever there was such a thing. The irony is, I saw it maybe two weeks before I got sober–right after someone offered to “shoot me up” with heroin. As if!

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  2. There were a few good films missing from your list. I really enjoyed “28 Days” starring Sandra Bullock (2000). There is the classic “Days of Wine and Roses.” (1962) I recommend “Smashed.” (2012) Of course, who can forget “Clean and Sober,” starring Michael Keaton. (1988) There’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” starring Johnny Depp. (1998) “Flight,” starring Denzel Washington, is quite a ride. (2012) One of the more provocative and disturbing films about addiction was “Trainspotting.” (1996) The list is surprisingly endless. Being in recover myself, and planning a career in addictions counseling, I enjoy watching films regarding this topic.

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    1. I liked all of your additions, except I don’t think I ever saw Trainspotting. The Days of Wine and Roses was my very first film I watched, which depicted alcoholism. I just sat there and thought “whoa” this is weird to see how alcoholics act.

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  3. Changing Lanes with Ben Affleck was terrific, and carried the 12 step message to the non alcoholic world; the key line, I believe, is “He’ll have to write his own letter,” and gets to the foundation of taking personal responsibility for your own inventory.

    Depicting mania is difficult, but the opening monologue in Michael Clayton (with George Clooney) did a great job, the script must have been hard to write, and the delivery was spot on.

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  4. Interesting list.I really enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook. The other suggestions by readers were all good ones. I know there are more..
    Off the top of my head, and these are really old, The Lost Weekend, The Snake Pit and Frances, about the actress Frances Farmer, and then there is also Sybil.

    Liked by 1 person

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