Alcoholism in Movies: How Hollywood Depicts the Harsh Realities of the Condition

Hollywood movies may be fictional, but the lessons behind their stories offer insights on things that happen in reality. Sometimes, these messages have an effect on the public’s perception toward important topics.

Let’s take alcoholism for example. The use of alcohol is regularly portrayed in various films of all genres. Because of this, many viewers are led to believe that drinking is “cool”. They may even be inspired to try it for themselves, just to see what those fictional characters are raving about. Young adults and teenagers are much more susceptible to these messages because of their own curiosity.


But the good news is that Hollywood sometimes churns out films that are made responsibly, tackling important issues with sensitivity.

On the topic of alcoholism, Hollywood has produced several movies that explore the harsh realities that come with it. Characters are sometimes shown triumphant, overcoming alcoholism and starting anew. Sometimes they are made part of a tragic story, showing why alcoholism shouldn’t be taken lightly. Regardless of what happens within the story, all these movies are the same: they show that alcoholism is associated with struggling. At the end of the day, that is what alcoholism truly is.

Today we are going to talk about some examples of films that responsibly portray the struggles of the alcoholic. If you are experiencing similar problems, you may be able to relate to these characters. Or if you know someone who is more likely to pay attention to the messages of Hollywood films rather than the constructive advice given to them by their loved ones, have them watch a few of these. They may be able to see the destructive side of alcohol.

Here are some well-made Hollywood films that depict the harsh realities of alcoholism.

28 Days (2000)

28 Days, starring Sandra Bullock, is a comedy-drama film directed by Betty Thomas. Bullock plays the main protagonist Gwen Cummings, who is a newspaper columnist who was forced to enter rehabilitation for alcoholism.

This film explores what alcoholism is like for people who initially aren’t aware of how big their problem actually is. It also explores how rehabilitation works, and how life is inside a rehab center. This film is great because it breaks down the stigma that rehabs are gloomy places for people that need to be punished. Instead, it highlights the positive energy around rehabilitation centers. This is an accurate depiction because an essential part of rehabilitation is a solid support system that could provide emotional comfort for patients.

The film also stars Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West, Elizabeth Perkins, Steve Buscemi, and Diane Ladd.

28 Days places Bullock’s character in a rehab program, which she picks over jail time, after making a large scene at her sister’s wedding. This entertaining film gives an interesting look at how rehabilitation works can eliminate fear of seeking help.


My Name is Joe (1998)

This 1998 British film directed by Ken Loach is not as bright and bubbly as 28 Days (which in itself had its own share of dramatic moments). But My Name is Joe offers a dark look at alcoholism, sobriety, and relapse. The relapse portion offers the film’s dramatic climax, in which Peter Mullan’s character Joe Kavanagh finally breaks down and returns to his struggle with alcoholism.

It’s a frustrating film that shocks the audience with its dark turn, while offering a realistic glimpse of how alcoholism can truly ruin a person’s life. My Name is Joe centers on the life of an unemployed recovering alcoholic in Glasgow. The character finds love in a health visitor, and takes pride in a baseball team he assembled on his own.

Despite his likeable personality, things turn grim for Joe as the film explores his alcoholic past and current struggle with poverty. In the end, if Joe had only been sober, one of the characters wouldn’t have died. His performance landed Mullan a Best Actor award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

This terrible tragedy is not too far off from what actually happens in real life, as many people find it hard to remain sober.

Withnail and I (1987)

This British comedy film written and directed by Bruce Robinson offers a much lighter perspective, despite tackling the same issues. Alcoholism is the problem for the two main characters of Withnail and I.

Withnail and Marwood (played by Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) are struggling actors who are currently unemployed. They live in a squalid flat in Camden Town in 1969, and they are pretty much satisfied with spending all their money on alcohol. They lament the state of their careers and constantly bicker over their own self-destructive habits.

But despite this comedy film’s lighthearted tone, it actually has a bittersweet ending that shows the two different sides of the typical alcoholic story. Marwood gets a callback for a project he auditioned for, and eventually lands the job. Meanwhile Withnail gets in more trouble because of his alcoholism. Marwood decides to leave his friend behind, refusing to drink with him one last time. Marwood then pursues his prospect with hope for a better future, while Withnail remains perfectly satisfied with complaining about his fate.

When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

This romantic drama film centers on alcoholism and its effects on the people who love you. The story is all about Alice, a high school counselor who is struggling with alcoholism, and her husband Michael who is an air pilot.

Alice is kind-hearted person who tends to get in trouble because she can’t put the bottle down. But once Michael convinces her to enter rehab, things get complicated. While Alice does manage to fix her problem with alcoholism, it does not fix everything in her relationship with Michael. This realistic approach to storytelling gives the audience a reminder that the fight with alcoholism doesn’t end after rehab. It’s a constant struggle to stay sober, and also the beginning of a great opportunity to start mending broken relationships. Alcoholism doesn’t just affect one person after all, but it affects everyone around the patient. And rebuilding relationships may not always be easy.

Hollywood certainly has a great power over audience perception, and these depictions of alcoholism provide a well-needed insight on its various negative effects.

If you are struggling with drug addiction or alcohol addiction please call us so we can help you get on the road to recovery.