19 March 2021 1500 Views

How movies show addiction

by James Murphy

Hollywood and vices: how are they shown in movies and series?

Struggling with addiction is a part of everyday life for many. When life becomes overwhelming, and everything seems too dark, most people reach out to something comforting that will ease the pain of everyday existence. 


Some find eating a whole bar of chocolate helpful, while others reach out to drug and alcohol that can quickly turn into abuse. Becoming and being addicted is something that we should take seriously, but it’s also a topic of many movies.

What’s more, some of the favourite movies on our list show all-too-human vices and addiction sometimes in a more glamorous way that makes us (paradoxically) admire the main character, while sometimes they show all the hardships of being an addict.


We decided to explore how vices and addiction are shown in Hollywood movies and series and re-examine the most common patterns we see when it comes to these topics.

But before we start, here’s something we’re sure you didn’t know!


Have you ever wondered what’s used as fake drugs and alcohol in movies? Turns out, inositol (vitamin B found in plants) is used as cocaine, and even gives actors a strong lift, resembling the “real deal”. For meth, it’s usually resin and ice tea for whiskey.


Apart from the props used in movies and series, how do they show addiction and vices? Is addiction something to be romanticized or feared?


Different movies take a different approach to these topics. For instance, if we take a look at Trainspotting, where filmmakers decided to take a more sobering perspective on addiction and tried to show what drugs do to people and their loved ones we will see how devastating addiction can be. The movie also shows the mindset and the environment of addicts, and how friendships and relationships with others become empty and lifeless when the drug is involved. And even though Trainspotting is a favourite of many, it’s not a movie that offers a romanticized side of the story of being a drug user. It’s a slap in the face for many who even briefly considered indulging in this type of activity making a clear statement on what will happen if they decide to pursue this path.


On the other side, Fear and Loathing offers a more-hyped version of drug consumption. Made by Hunter S. Thompson’s book by the same name, a man who invented the term “gonzo journalism”, an approach to reporting that consists of getting stoned and hurling into a story, shows all the thrill and excitement of getting high. No wonder many teenagers were hyped about trying LSD after seeing this movie.

On the other side, famous casino movies usually show gambling as something that’s overly glamorized and hyped, avoiding showing the real dangers of becoming an addict. This is how we admire James Bond in Casino Royale, or Ocean’s Eleven as they find their way through the gambling world.


What’s shocking, is the movie called Rounders where we see a young college student, Mike McDermott, who plays poker to pay off his student debts and ends up dropping out of the University to pursue a career as a professional poker player. Nobody says anything about his career choice – what’s more, it seems it’s widely accepted. We can see it in the line McDermott’s professor says commenting on his student’s choice as “we cannot run away from who we are” and that “our destiny chooses us”.


Lastly, the vice that we rarely talk about, alcohol, is also widespread in movies. In fact, movies and mass media are to blame for the fact why so many young people suffer from alcohol addiction. To be more precise, by some studies, almost 83% of movies popular in Hollywood depicted alcohol use which made people more prone to developing an addiction. Scientists explain it as a part of social learning theory, which tells us that behaviour is learned from the environment as people observe and then imitate the actions of influential others such as parents, friends, and characters depicted in the media or advertising. 


Sometimes we cannot tell the difference between our favourite actors and their favourite drinks. We think of James Bond and Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, pops into our minds. When we think about Don Draper we will think about an Old Fashioned. Seems like alcohol gives some power to these characters and highlights their charm. And if we do the same, we will be one step closer to becoming like our favourite movie character.



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