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Must-see Movies About Opioid Addiction

There are many movies that reveal the reality of what it’s like to have an intensive opioid addiction. Some films portray drug use in a way that can provide insight and compassion for those with a limited understanding of how the cycle of abuse works and what it feels like. 

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) 

Movies about the problems associated with opioid addiction go back to the early days of film. The Man with the Golden Arm was released in 1955. The film, based on a 1949 novel by Nelsen Algren, stars Frank Sinatra who goes to jail and then relapses. The film showcases poor decision-making while on drugs including staying up all night gambling and missing opportunities to improve your life and career.

Sinatra’s character ends up in a physical altercation while under the influence which is not uncommon for those who use opioids. Sinatra’s character is seen begging the female lead (played by Kim Novak) for money because he needs a fix. The film is dramatic and the Hollywood ending of this film is not necessarily aligned with reality. That being said, the film portrays an early example of our cultural understanding of the danger of opioid abuse and addiction. The movie contains plenty of realistic and relatable scenes alongside what you might expect from a Hollywood film of this era. 

The Panic in Needle Park (1971) 

Starring Al Pacino, The Panic in Needle Park depicts a group of heroin addicts who spend their time in a place nicknamed Needle Park which, in that era, was a nickname for an area located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The plot of the film reveals how a romantic relationship can become extremely dysfunctional as a result of addiction. 

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

Directed by auteur Gus Van Gant, and starring wheat Generation writer William S. Burroughs who is known for both his famous books, Naked Lunch and Junky, and his many years of heroin addiction. Burroughs surprisingly lived to the age of 83 which is not common for someone with his lifestyle. This is a real-life reminder of the exception that proves the rule. Burroughs’ cameo in Drugstore Cowboy reminds viewers that most real-life junkies do not live long lives.  

One of the more disturbing scenes in the film involves a depiction of those with drug addictions trying to figure out what to do with the body of a friend who has overdosed. 

Drugstore Cowboy also depicts the modern concept of polysubstance abuse. The characters in the film have substance abuse disorders but do not favor particular drugs so much as searching for the next best high. The film has many charms but also a serious message about the harm, risks, and darkness of a lifestyle dominated by drug addictions. 

Permanent Midnight (1998) 

Starring Ben Stiller as a so-called “functional heroin” addict, Permanent Midnight is based on Jerry Stahl’s autobiographical book of the same name. In the film, Stiller’s character is a Hollywood tv writer. The film is partly considered a comedy which is presumably why Ben Stiller was given the leading role. Stiller does an impressive job of showing how no matter how well a person with a serious addiction thinks they are managing to hide their problem, eventually it is going to catch up with them big time. 

Last Days (2005)

Another film by director Gus Van Sant on the subject of heroin addiction. This movie opens with the main character sneaking out of rehab. Last Days follows a character based on Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana. The film follows an imagined concept of what his final days were like leading up to his suicide. The film is quiet and lonely. There is a darkness that looms as going into it viewers know how it will inevitably end. 

The tone of the movie is somber. One of the takeaways for viewers is a better understanding of how addiction can make a person feel detached from the world around them and unable to find a way to move forward with their life. This is why intervention can be so important. Someone who has lost their sense of purpose and direction can be at risk for suicide. Family and friends need to know the signs that drug abuse is derailing a person’s life and, if necessary, make the tough decision to force someone with an addiction to go to rehab. 

Art Imitates Life and Life Imitates Art

It’s important to keep in mind that only some of what is depicted in movies is realistic. In real life, situations are often more nuanced, complicated, and tragic. Life is not a straight narrative and not all addictions unfold in a cookie-cutter manner. Knowing the signs that opioid misuse has become a full-blown addiction is essential to prevent someone’s life from spiraling out of control. If you or someone you care about is struggling with opioid addiction, reach out to the experts at Oasis Recovery to learn more about treatment options. It’s never too late to start recovery. 

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