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Movies and TV Shows About Teen Addiction

Sad and vulnerable teen girl suffering from dangerous addiction  

Drug use among teenagers may be more common than you would think. One factor that may play a role in normalizing this behavior among teens is the representation of drugs in the media. There are several TV shows and movies about drug addiction, which may or may not accurately represent the dangers of drug use.

Some movies or TV shows make drug use look cool or glamorous, which may influence teens to want to use drugs. Other TV shows or movies do a better job of portraying the consequences of drug use, especially when it leads to addiction. The movies or TV shows that a teen chooses to watch may impact their view of drug use and could play a role in whether they decide to experiment with drugs.

How Media About Drugs Impacts Teen Viewers

When parents consider how much TV their teenagers watch, they should recognize the media influence on drug use. Alcohol and drugs are often portrayed in the media in a way that makes them look attractive to use, either because attractive people are using them or they are used at parties and in fun social situations. It may relate to teenagers that if they do drugs or use alcohol, they will be accepted by their peers.

Studies have found links between exposure to drugs and alcohol in movies and teenage drug or alcohol use. Teenagers who watch more movies that have alcohol depicted are more likely to drink earlier and participate in binge drinking. Similarly, watching more than three R-rated movies (which are the most likely to contain drugs or alcohol) per month correlates with teenage drinking. Even watching movies with violence as a teenager correlates with drug use later in life.

Media That Offers More Realistic Viewpoints

While alcohol and drug portrayals in the media can have a negative impact on teen drug use, there are reality TV shows and documentaries about drug addiction that give a more realistic view of the impact drugs can have on a person’s life. These shows could be beneficial in demonstrating to teenagers that drug use is not all fun and games. Movies about teenage drug addiction can also show teenagers that even at their age, it is possible to become addicted to drugs.

Movies and TV shows that demonstrate people making good decisions about drug use and making it through the struggle of recovery can even have a positive impact on those watching. When someone is already struggling with a substance use disorder, these types of TV shows can offer positive inspiration for staying sober.

TV Shows About Drug Addiction

The use of substances is still quite common on American TV shows. Alcohol is the most common drug portrayed on TV in the United States, with 70% of prime-time TV shows showing alcohol in some way. It is usually portrayed as funny and only shown in a negative light 23% of the time. This remains true even for shows that are aimed at nine to fourteen-year-olds.

On the other hand, illicit drug use is rarely shown on TV. Shows that reference illicit drug use tend to not show it directly. For example, drug intervention TV shows talk about the effects that drugs can have on a person’s life, but do not actually show the person using drugs. TV shows that demonstrate the realistic side of drug use and the negative effects it can have may be beneficial in showing teenagers that drug use is not at all glamorous.

Watching TV shows that highlight the realities of drug use with your teen can help spark a healthy dialogue about substance use. Some TV shows that discuss the realities of addiction include:

  • Intervention: This documentary TV show features friends or family members holding an intervention for a person with a substance use disorder. The person is given an ultimatum to go to rehab or completely lose contact with their loved ones. It details the intervention process and follows up later with their progress in a treatment program.
  • Celebrity Rehab Presents Sober House: A spin-off of the show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, this show follows celebrities who have undergone rehab treatment and are now living in a sober house in Hollywood. They are allowed to stay at the house for 30 days while they transition from rehab back into their normal lives. The show documents their struggles and successes during that time.
  • Flaked: A comedy web series starring Will Arnett, the show portrays a man healing from alcoholism whose recovery was triggered by a horrible accident. It shows the struggles he faces and the relationships he’s developed to keep his life on track.
  • Too Young to Die: This series documents the lives of celebrities who died at a young age from a drug overdose.
  • Recovery Road: This TV series is based on the book by Blake Nelson, which focuses on a teenage girl who chooses to live in a rehab facility with others recovering from substance use disorders. It shows the process she goes through while also dealing with the pressures of being a teenager.
  • Mom: is a sitcom about a mother who is struggling with alcohol use and her own mother, who has also struggled with alcohol use, but is now sober. While funny, it also portrays a realistic side of recovery and how it is a life-long process. The two regularly attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and have interactions with their sponsors.

Drug Addiction Movies List

Movies that portray illicit drug use are much more common than TV shows. In fact, one study found that 22% of movies had at least one scene with drug use in it. Only half of the time was the drug use portrayed in a negative way. Instead, movies tend to make drugs look fun and exciting. However, like TV shows, there are also movies that can show the more realistic side of drug use and demonstrate its dangers. Movies about teenage drugs and alcohol can also show teens that they are not immune to becoming addicted to drugs.

While some films portray drugs as fun, others seek to share the truth about addiction and recovery. Some of the top drug addiction movies include:

  • Silk Road: Drugs, Death, and the Dark Web: This movie is about a digital drug cartel that develops on the “silk road,” a website for the black market. The silk road promises not to reveal its clients and keep them safe from persecution by the government. The story focuses on an IRS agent that tracks down its creator using his knowledge of growing up around drug dealers in Brooklyn.
  • Heaven Knows What: Based on a true story, this film showcases a girl who is addicted to heroin and homeless, living on the streets of New York. The main character, Harley Boggs is played by Arielle Holmes, whose unpublished memoir inspired the film.
  • White Girl: A young, college-aged girl living in New York City gets involved with a guy who sells drugs. This movie portrays the party scene of New York and the consequences that getting involved with drug use or selling drugs can have.
  • Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery: Comedian and actor Russell Brand recounts his struggle with substance use after deciding to seek treatment at the age of 27. This self-documented film tells his story and challenges the stigmas that surround addiction and treatment.
  • Addiction, Suicide, and Rock n Roll: How Skateboarding Saved My Life: This movie is about a homeless teenager, Eddie, who is addicted to drugs. When he starts skateboarding, he uses it as a way to turn his life around.
  • 28 Days: Starring Sandra Bullock, this film features a newspaper columnist who is required to enter rehab for alcohol after ruining her sister’s wedding and crashing her car into a house while drinking. Her choice is to spend 28 days in jail and enter rehab. It outlines her journey through withdrawal and treatment and the friendships she forms along the way.
  • The Anonymous People: This independent documentary film stars prominent people in the media talking about the stigma of substance use and rehabilitation.
  • The Basketball Diaries: Based on a book by Jim Carroll, this film stars Leonardo Di Caprio. It tells the story of a high school basketball player who becomes addicted to heroin and the struggles he goes through, including ending up homeless.

If you fear your teen has developed a substance use disorder or you are a teenager struggling with substance use, the Next Generation Village can help. Located in Sebring, Florida, Next Generation Village provides individualized care for teenagers living with substance use disorders. Contact a representative today to take the first step toward getting the help you need.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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