There are some powerful addiction documentaries out there. No surprise, because it’s no secret that we have a major drug problem in America. The only things that have truly changed with substance abuse in this country is the most commonly abused substance. In the 1970’s, it was heroin, followed by cocaine in the 1980’s. The 90’s saw a resurgence in heroin and the turn of the century saw a surge in methamphetamine abuse. Thankfully, artists have been there to document all of it for us. So whether you’re an addict, in recovery, or just someone who is interested in this conflicting and infuriating condition, sit back and read on! Following is the lowdown on some of the best addiction documentaries out there: what they’re covering, when they were made, and where you can find them at! Before we dive in, we’re going to preface this. Addiction is an ugly, devastating disease. Not all of these documentaries end happily, but they’re true to life. If an addict doesn’t find recovery, it’s almost guaranteed that he or she will not end up happy and healthy. It’s sad, but these are the grim facts. Now that we have the ugliness out of the way, let’s dive into the meat of this. Grab some popcorn, and your most comfortable binge-watching chair. We have your evening covered! Here they are, in no particular order.
Warning: This Drug May Kill You
From the moment “Warning: This Drug May Kill You,” opens, it puts a devastatingly painful face on the opioid epidemic. For the viewer who only recognizes the opioid epidemic as numbers on a screen because they haven’t personally been affected yet, seeing footage spliced together of so many addicts collapsing, nodding out, and overdosing in public is disturbing. There is one harrowing image of a toddler girl trying to wake up her mother who has collapsed face-down in the aisle of a grocery store that will stick with the average viewer far longer than they would want. The mother is comatose and we never learn if she lived or died. We never learn if that adorable little girl is now a ward of the state. After giving a solid history lesson regarding Purdue Pharmaceutical and how our country ended up in this mess to begin with,” Warning: This Drug May Kill You,” follows four different addicts and their families during the various stages of their progressing illnesses. From the moment it shows the young adults experimenting with prescribed narcotics to their decisions to move on to heroin, you’re going to be hooked (pun sooo intended). This is likely one of the most important addiction documentaries to come out in recent time due to its poignant, painful look at the current state of the opioid crisis in America. Be sure to check it out on HBO. If you don’t have HBO, you can also find it on Vudu and Amazon video.
Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery
It’s common knowledge that Russell Brand is nothing short of a saint toward the chronically addicted. He acknowledges on a daily basis that it’s a miracle he is still alive, let alone where he is in life now. He credits all of this to his recovery, for he knows that he could never have done it if he were still hooked on heroin and all of the other various substances he abused over the years. Russell finally managed to get clean at age 27, after a stint in rehab and due diligence in working the twelve steps. Like so many of her peers, Russell’s friend Amy Winehouse finally succumbed to her addiction at this tragically young age. While at the peak of her success, most tabloid headlines followed her drunken, crazed antics more so than they ever did her talent. It was heartbreaking to Russell. It was heartbreaking to him that he was never able to bring her into the fold of recovery, and you can hear in the tone of his voice that he was still carrying the guilt with him at the time of the filming. He credits her death with being the primary reason for making this film, which follows Brand as he interacts with many addicts and speaks in front of Parliament. As much as the documentary also humanizes addicts, its primary focus is a solid explanation of the disease model of addiction. Without being pandering and pedantic, it makes a solid case that the addict is in fact sick and needing treatment, not incarceration. It also shows that proper treatment will never come if we continue to lock addicts up and never offer them the help that they so desperately need.
Dope Sick Love
Dope Sick Love is an old one, but a good one. A classic at this point. This powerful documentary follows two young New York couples throughout their struggles with heroin addiction in the city. You see them struggle to hustle and use, only to fight off withdrawal and stay well. These addicts quit talking about getting high long ago. Dope Sick Love had quite a following when it was released due to the graphic nature of its content. There just weren’t many documentaries like it out there at the time. Heroin addiction, being the taboo illness that it is, was rarely glimpsed by mainstream society. Dope Sick Love gave many of us our first inside look at what has been become America’s biggest drug problem in history. Though the movie is older now (think 2005ish), it does still have some relevant modern context. One of the girls in the movie, Tracie, graphically struggles with her addiction throughout the movie, and her prospects for a happy life are grim as the movie ends. After the end of the filming, Tracy finally decided enough was enough and successfully found recovery. Now she is a drug and alcohol counselor and a renegade. She can currently be found on Reddit mailing naloxone kits to addicts who don’t have access to them. She has been credited with personally saving one thousand lives with her naloxone campaign alone. The woman is a champion of recovery and a beacon of hope for anyone still struggling with addiction. She is proof that, no matter the odds, we do recover. Several others in the film have unfortunately passed before their time. They are stark reminders that while we can recover, we only have so much time to do so. Dope Sick Love can be streamed on HBO Now or HBO Go. https://www.northpointrecovery.com/images/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/best_addiction_documentaries-600×400.jpg
Filmmaker Justin Hunt developed the idea of American Meth with two goals in mind: first, he wanted to take the viewer across the country, showing the devastation that this drug has caused in people from all walks of life, and second, he wanted to offer a glimmer of hope. Val Kilmer lends his extraordinary voice-acting talents to this poignant film as the narrator. He felt the subject deserved a front and center spotlight “because of the chaos it causes…you don’t hear as much about the meth problem and it needs attention.” While many people consider methamphetamine a rural, backwater, “hillbilly” drug, the film shows the truth of it being trafficked in from across the Mexican border, where much of it now comes from, to all areas of the country. It is abused by all walks of life, and the scenes of abuse are harrowing. One of the most graphic and powerful moments shows a pretty young girl who has been injecting the drug so long that they only place she has left to inject it is straight into her jugular vein. She carries on a casual conversation while it is going on, as if completely immune to the idea that she is shooting one of the most powerful stimulants known to man directly into her neck. Without spoiling it, because you need to watch this, the film does end on a positive note. It shows that there is a chance for all of us to wrestle with the demons we have inside us, if we can muster up the courage. American Meth is available and Youtube and Google Play.
Filmmaker Chris Bell turns the camera on the pharmaceutical industry, which has had such a large role creating the prescription pill problem we have in America today. He analyzes the history of it, from Purdue’s pushing OxyContin onto anyone who would listen, to the solution many opiate addicts had to masking their addictions. “Take this one to make you sleepy; take this one to wake you back up.” Chris Bell is a former athlete and professional bodybuilder. He comes from a line of professional athletes. What this his spin on the documentary such a novel approach is that he allows us to see firsthand inside the abuses that these athletes can subject their bodies to with ease because they are numb. The sheer amount of drugs these guys can consume is startling. You also see the heartbreak this disease can cause from a family suffering with loss. Chris’ brother died of an overdose not terribly long before the filming of the documentary. The devastation that the family still deals with is heart-wrenching. When the mother cries you simply want to hold her, even though we know there is nothing we can do. But without giving too much away–as likeable as the protagonist Chris is, things are not always what they seem unfortunately. Addiction is a process disease, and sometimes people struggle with relapse and honesty. We’ll leave it at that. Prescription Thugs can be streamed on Netflix.
A Quick Message of Hope
All of these documentaries show the ugliness and insidiousness that is addiction. They don’t all leave us feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside either when they end. Some of them don’t show that there is always hope. And that’s the key to remember here. There is always hope. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out. Don’t die a statistic.