Films on Drug Addiction

American Addict

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 29m. The United States’ alarming appetite for prescription drugs is the focus of this sober documentary, which aims to illuminate a national health crisis.

Extreme Drug Smuggling

Documentary 2011 TV-14 42m. Today’s drug cartels now think and act like corporatations, ever vigilant for the next big idea and going to extremes to expand their markets.

El Infierno

Drama 2010 NC-17 2hr 28m. This extremely violent, darkly comic film centers on Benny, an ordinary man thrust into the vices and violence of the Mexican drug trade. While he enjoys his new lifestyle, Benny soon begins to question what he has become. It does have some funny parts, specially at the beginning, but if you don’t speak Spanish some of the comedy is lost in translation. As the movie progresses the comedy dies out, and what you are left with is a well-acted mob drama. This movie gives you a raw idea of how legal, ethical, and moral standards change when people find themselves trying to better their economic situation and the extent to which they will go to accomplish that goal.  It’s a smart and funny good-quality film tackling a very real situation going on in Mexico right now — with everything from corrupt politicians, drug lords, church and state. This movie is a protest against corruption. Amazing acting, amazing style, well-conceived tribute to Cantinflas, telenovelas, and gangster chic. All the polish and irony leads you in, and then the big reveal: a realistic, sobering portrait of narco violence. It really took me by surprise; when I first saw this movie I wasn’t expecting it to be this good. Then I recommended it to my friends, and they all loved it too. This instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time. It was so real that it was scary. Surprised this movie did not win any huge awards!
(See also: “Todo El Poder”, “La Ley De Herodes”, and this movie “El Infierno” form a trilogy. These three Spanish-language black comedies take aim at the crime and corruption found south of the border.)

Web Junkie

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 15m.  Spotlighting a troubling social trend in modern China, this documentary visits one of 400 rehab centers focused on treating the symptoms of Internet addiction.  “China is the first country to declare internet addiction as a clinical disorder, claiming it is the number one public health threat to its teenage population.”  And the problem will surely grow, as everything is so net-based these days.  Having seen people close to me spend 10+ hours a day online gaming, I can tell you the addiction is very real.
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Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 15m. This compelling documentary about skid row in Los Angeles finds both desperation and inspiration reflected in the area’s indigent population. The stories of eight residents outline the range of causes leading to the nation’s current homeless crisis These personal stories of people who explain how they ended up in skid row and the choices they made regardless how bad are so honest that I found a lot of empathy for them. Unexpected and magical. I never realized how deep and beautiful the human stories of Skid Row actually are. This film has really changed my thinking. This one will break your heart but is probably the most inspiring doc I’ve seen this year and a top movie in terms of inspiring change. I gave this wonderful documentary 5 Stars! It is a brilliant glimpse into the lives of some of the homeless. It filled me with empathy and compassion. I highly recommend this film

Without Bias

Documentary, 30 for 30, 2009, 52min. This episode tells the story of the rise of Len Bias as a future basketball superstar. When Len Bias dropped dead two days after the 1986 NBA Draft, he forever altered our perception of drug use. From potential NBA star to cautionary tale. Shortly after being drafted by the Boston Celtic’s Len died of a heart attack apparently induced by cocaine. The first portion of the film is about the amazing college career for Bias. Interviewee after interviewee talked about what an amazing and complete prospect he was and how he was expected to be a major NBA star. However, the film changes abruptly when you learn that only two days after being drafted #2 by the Boston Celtics he was dead–dead from a drug overdose. The steps leading to the death were quite detailed–with interviews from some of those with him when they were using cocaine the night he died as well as some touching accounts from his family. Finally, the fallout of the death is the final portion–as heads rolled in a rush to find someone (other than Bias) to blame and to create tougher drug laws.

World’s Most Dangerous Drug

Documentary National Geographic 2006 NR 52 minutes. Cheap, powerful and highly addictive, methamphetamine — or meth — has been called the world’s most destructive drug. National Geographic correspondent Lisa Ling shows why in this documentary charting meth’s impact across America — and the world. From rural communities and sleepy suburbs to major metropolitan areas, Ling travels the globe, talking to those who’ve been affected by the potent pharmaceutical and examining its devastating power.

The Meth Epidemic

Documentary Frontline 2006. “Frontline” and The Oregonian team up for this in-depth investigation of the big business behind crystal meth and the destructive wake the drug has left on individuals, families and communities across America. The report traces the epidemic’s roots as a fad among West Coast motorcycle gangs, its national growth, lawmakers’ responses and the struggles to regulate meth’s primary ingredient, which is sold legally in over-the-counter cold remedies.

American Drug War
The Last White Hope

Documentary 2007 NR 118 minutes. With commentary from soldiers on both sides of the conflict, filmmaker Kevin Booth’s incisive documentary wades into the murky waters of the American war on drugs, the longest and costliest war in U.S. history. Taking viewers from prisons and inner-city streets to the halls of Congress and his own kitchen, Booth attempts to sort out the intricacies of the national drug policy — and the reasons for its unmitigated failure.

Cocaine Cowboys

Documentary 2006 R 118 minutes. This penetrating documentary from director Billy Corben pulls out all the stops to explore the many dimensions of Miami’s cocaine-trafficking boom of the 1980s, as told by the smugglers, cops and average citizens who were there. The film is an unflinching study of Miami’s most notorious and lethal vice — from how the drug was moved and its financial impact on the city to the havoc and violence that followed in its wake.

Cocaine Cowboys 2
Hustlin’ with the Godmother

Documentary. 2008 NR 97 minutes. Sending a letter of admiration to the imprisoned “Cocaine Godmother” Griselda Blanco sets off a chain reaction of life-changing events for drug dealer Charles Cosby, who becomes her lover — and a multimillionaire — in one fell swoop. But Cosby doesn’t realize he’s been sharing a bed with the notorious “Black Widow,” a woman who kills her lovers with ruthless indifference. Billy Corben directs this documentary follow-up to Cocaine Cowboys

Locked Up Abroad

Documentary Series 2007 NR 4 discs. Experience the horrors and challenges facing travelers imprisoned abroad — from tourists caught smuggling drugs to visitors captured by violent rebel groups — in this gritty documentary series from National Geographic. The 12 episodes detail terrifying tales of confinement and stories of freedom regained in Chechnya, Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Kuwait, India, Pakistan, Peru, Malaysia, Taiwan and Ecuador.

Marijuana USA

Documentary CNBC 2010 TV-PG 43 minutes. More states are permitting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. CNBC goes inside the flourishing medical marijuana industry and examines how a new generation of marijuana entrepreneurs has emerged across America.

Marijuana Inc.

Documentary CNBC 2009 TV-PG 44 minutes. Marijuana has become a booming cash crop. CNBC’s Trish Regan goes behind the scenes to explore the inner workings of this secretive industry, focusing on Northern California’s “Emerald Triangle,” now the marijuana capital of America.

Square Grouper

Documentary 2011 R 1hr 40m. Documentarian Billy Corben shines a spotlight on three unusual and interrelated stories about drug trafficking in Florida during the 1970s and 1980s, when marijuana smuggling was big business practiced by everyone from ordinary folks to pirates. Interviews and archival footage examine the practices of the incendiary Ethiopian Coptic Church, the jobless fishermen who grew pot in Everglades City and the enterprising members of the Black Tuna Gang.

A/k/a Tommy Chong

Documentary 2006 NR 80 mins.  In 2003 the U.S. government used entrapment and allocated an astounding $12 million to apprehend Tommy Chong — better known as half of the classic comedy team Cheech and Chong — for selling bong-like glass pipes over the Internet.  Filmmaker Josh Gilbert chronicles the sting that came to be known as “Operation Pipe Dream” in this fascinating documentary featuring interviews with Richard “Cheech” Marin, Jay Leno, and Bill Maher.   I really did not know that Tommy Chong was locked up for selling glass pipes on the internet!  It’s not that the Chongs were faultless, it’s just that government really, really wanted to use them as an example.  The federal government prosecuted this case with a clear intent to ‘send a message’.  Tommy Chong is an affable, easy-going guy in this documentary about the events leading up to his incarceration and his attitude afterward.  So this is the story about how the federal government used YOUR tax dollars, $12,000,000, to send Tommy to a plush federal prison for six months — for selling for selling glass pipe bongs on line?  And it was basically his son doing most of the promoting and just using Tommy’s famous name to sell the product.  Who came out the losers? — the U.S. taxpayers. Every taxpayer should see this movie.  Tommy came out of prison more popular than ever.  It also does a decent job of attacking the idiot former AG Ashcroft and their “war” on drugs — they didn’t even need Michael Moore to make the Feds look dumb.   Just when you thought our government couldn’t get any sillier, they do.  This is a must-see movie unless you are so against other people using pot that you miss the point.  I don’t use it, but I cannot see the point in locking up people who advocate its use and sell glass pipes!  Very interesting view of government misuse of power regarding the first amendment, prosecuting Chong for saying things that ‘could corrupt youngsters’ by encouraging them to smoke marijuana.  We are truly living in a post-constitutional era. The constitution and the Bill of Rights have been systematically compromised and are no longer able to protect our individual rights and freedoms from those who have corrupted our system.  Perhaps this will be a wake up call to those who don’t think it can happen to them.  Even if you aren’t a pot-head now, nor ever have been, this movie has fascinating points to make.

The Secret Heartbeat of America

Documentary “Conspiracy” series 2003 NR 104 minutes. On a sultry night in 1987, two high schoolers were mysteriously murdered, their bodies strewn across train tracks to be dismembered by a speeding locomotive. This installment of the “Conspiracy” series explores the killings — later known as “the train deaths” — which led to an exposĂ© of a massive CIA smuggling operation and raised questions about the U.S. government’s involvement in drug and weapons trafficking worldwide.

In Search of the American Drug Lords

Documentary 2003 NR 50 minutes. Presenting the results of a three-year investigation, an undercover team of journalists explores the life and times of Barry Seal, one of the most famous CIA agents and successful drug smugglers in American history. In the process, the film also posits the theory that the assassinations and scandals of the 1960s and ’70s were perpetrated by the same people responsible for the cocaine epidemic that blighted the nation in the 1980s.

Plan Colombia
Cashing in on the Drug War Failure

Documentary 2002 NR 56m. Ed Asner narrates this documentary about U.S. involvement in Colombia’s drug trafficking and civil unrest. The film examines the impact of chemical spraying and military funding and reveals alternate U.S. interests. Features interviews with Noam Chomsky, the late Senator Paul Wellstone, Colombian Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, Congressmen John Conyers and Jim McGovern, U.S. State Department officials, guerilla leaders and others.

Maria Full of Grace

Drama 2004 R 101 minutes. Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is a smart, independent 17-year-old girl from Colombia who agrees to smuggle a half-kilo of heroin into the United States for a shot at a normal existence in “El Norte” — where she imagines the city streets are paved with gold. Sandino Moreno’s sensitive portrayal of an atypical drug-running “mule” earned her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead.

The Wire

Drama Series 2003 TV-MA 23 discs. Widely considered one of the finest-written dramas ever to appear on television, “The Wire” explores the personalities embroiled in Baltimore’s underground drug trade. Each season focuses on a different aspect of this small American city grappling with its vices, from the longshoremen on the docks, to the cops, journalists and politicians who all have so much to lose. Dominic West and Lance Reddick anchor the expansive cast.

Bluehill Avenue

Drama 2001 R 120 minutes. Growing up in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Roxbury in Boston means finding a way to adapt to the mean streets — and that’s just what four friends do by peddling drugs and building their business one deal at a time. But if you mess with contraband, you’d better expect trouble … and the foursome gets it with a vengeance in this gritty drama starring Allen Payne, Aaron D. Spears and Clarence Williams III.

Return to Paradise
(All for One)

Drama 1998 R 112 minutes. Americans Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix), Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) spend a carefree summer together on the beaches of Malaysia. Two years later, a lawyer (Anne Heche) tells Sheriff and Tony that Lewis has been sentenced to death for drug trafficking. If both go back to claim their share of the drugs, each will go to prison for three years; if only one goes, he’ll be jailed for six years. If both refuse, Lewis will die.


Drama 1996 R 1hr33m.   Renton and his mates cope with the gritty realities of heroin addiction. But when Renton gets clean, he can’t get away from his friends’ nasty habits.

Clear and Present Danger.

Drama 1994. 141 min. Dir. Phillip Noyce. With Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, Willem Dafoe. English. Color. A CIA-backed paramilitary force launches an attack on the Colombian drug cartels, and Ford ultimately lays responsibility for authorizing the attack on the presi­dent himself. Film’s importance lies in its commentary on the threat posed to state sovereignty by international drug trafficking and on the issue of deniability in decision making.

New Jack City: Special Edition

Drama 1991 R 101 minutes. Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes), a drug dealer at the dawn of the crack cocaine epidemic, enriches himself and enslaves his people via an inner-city crack factory. Meanwhile, cop Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) will do anything to penetrate Brown’s empire. From its thrilling opening shot to its tense closing frames, director Mario Van Peebles’ action flick is part crime thriller, part urban history lesson and all entertainment.


Docudrama 1990 R 145 minutes. Director Martin Scorsese’s gripping gangster opus recounts three decades in the life of real-world mobster Henry Hill, who dreamed of becoming a big-time wise guy but landed in the Witness Protection Program instead.

King of New York

Drama 1990 R 106 minutes. Abel Ferrara’s stylish direction accentuates this gritty action film about a New York drug lord who’s just out of prison and determined to rule the streets again with a vengeance. But he also wants to use part of his drug-trade money to do good.

Less Than Zero

Drama 1987 R 98 mins.  When college freshman Clay returns home to Los Angeles from school, he finds that his former girlfriend and his best friend have established a troubled relationship fueled by a fondness for clubs, wild parties and endless amounts of cocaine.  As far as the acting, it was maybe a 3 star rating, except Robert Downey Jr.  I’m a recovering drug/pill addict.  So trust me when I say, he did an AMAZING job.  I think it really shows what addiction does to all aspects of your life, health, relationships etc.  I think of how hard that must have been for him to play that role, as he is a “real life” recovering addict.  It is very different from the book (of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis – written at 19 in college). But with the background of the book in mind, the story is well played-out, and it is worth it to see Downy Jr’s portrayal of drug addiction and Spader’s creepy dealer personae. I read the book in high school for English class, and after finishing we watched the film version. All of us, including my teacher, had the same reaction: what is this? The Clay in the book and the Clay on the screen are two entirely different people. In the book Clay, like every other character, partakes of lots of drugs and meaningless sex. But in the film he doesn’t so much as pick up a cigarette. In the book Clay is largely apathetic to everything and everyone (including Blair and Julian), save for a few moments when his friends go way too far in their excess and he seems to be the only one who is disturbed by what they do.  Most of us knew someone who was already on or heading down the path of destruction. And what it felt like to numbly watch because no matter what you thought or said, that person just wasn’t going to listen to reason. I think this movie did a good job of showing the darker side of the 80’s.   I recommend it to anyone, but especially if you have a loved one who is an addict.  They need help, not people turning their backs.  This is a progressive fatal disease.


Drama 1983 R 170 minutes. Brian De Palma’s crime drama stars Al Pacino as Cuban refugee Tony Montana, who becomes a drug kingpin in 1980s Miami but makes the fatal mistake of getting high on his own cocaine supply.

Midnight Express

Docudrama 1978 R 121 minutes. The true story of Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is brought to life by Oliver Stone’s Academy Award-winning screenplay recounting the young American’s experience in a Turkish prison. When Hayes is caught attempting to smuggle drugs out of Turkey, the courts decide to make an example out of him and sentence him to 20 years in prison. With little hope of ever getting out, Hayes decides to attempt a daring escape. Co-stars Randy Quaid and John Hurt.

The French Connection

Docudrama 1971 R 104 minutes. Tough-as-nails narcotics detective “Popeye” Doyle and his partner, Russo, are in hot pursuit of a suave French drug dealer who may be the key to a multimillion-dollar heroin-smuggling operation in this classic crime thriller inspired by true events.

The Connection

Drama 1962 NR. Director Shirley Clarke uses a combination of actors (including William Redfield, Roscoe Lee Browne and Warren Finnerty) and “real” people to play a group of junkies waiting around a flophouse for their fix in this American New Wave classic. Interspersed among them are some topflight jazz musicians — such as pianist Freddie Redd and sax man Jackie McLean — who occasionally pick up their instruments and jam.

The Man with the Golden Arm

Drama 1955 NR. Frank Sinatra turns in an Oscar-nominated performance as Frankie Machine, a heroin addict and gifted card dealer trying to kick his drug habit so he can pursue his dream of becoming a professional jazz drummer. But a nagging wife, a high stakes poker game and a suspicious death conspire against Frankie’s desperate attempts to give up the needle once and for all. Kim Novak co-stars in this riveting drama directed by Otto Preminger.


Documentary Ken Burns 2011 NR3 Episodes. Ken Burns’s documentary traces the passage of the 18th Amendment, the social and legal effects of prohibiting alcohol, and the repeal of Prohibition.


Drug Wars

Documentary Frontline 2000. In 1968, the federal drug enforcement budget was $60 million. By the end of fiscal year 1999, that same budget had exploded to more than $17 billion. Yet despite the United States’ vast efforts during the past three decades to stop the flow of illegal drugs, the use of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and other illicit drugs remains essentially unchanged. Frontline presents the first television history of America’s war on drugs as told from both sides of the battlefield in a special four-hour report. In Part II of “Drug Wars,” Frontline examines the impact of crack cocaine on our city streets and our criminal justice system. The report also investigates Mexico’s role in supplying drugs to meet American demand.

Busted: America’s War on Marijuana

Documentary Frontline 1998. The United States government spends nearly $2.5 billion each year to process arrests related to marijuana production and sales, which often carry severe penalties. While the war on marijuana may be going strong do the results prove it a boom or a bust? Frontline explores the impact of current policy on stemming the tide of marijuana use and looks at how marijuana law enforcement is affecting American life. The United States government spends nearly $2.5 billion each year to process arrests related to marijuana production and sales, which often carry severe penalties. While the war on marijuana may be going strong do the results prove it a boom or a bust? Frontline explores the impact of current policy on stemming the tide of marijuana use and looks at how marijuana law enforcement is affecting American life.

What Happened to the Drug War?

Documentary Frontline 1993. The federal government’s multibillion dollar war on drugs is an issue Bill Clinton largely ignored during his presidential campaign but will now have to confront. An eight-month investigation by Frontline shows how smugglers in Texas are defeating the nation’s drug-war defenses and reveals flaws in the systems set up by the Customs Service, the Border Patrol, and the military to detect smugglers.

Cuba and Cocaine

Documentary Frontline 1991. Frontline investigates the long history of Castro’s connection to the drug trade. Despite Cuban government denials, this report uncovers evidence that drug smuggling was an official state policy under Castro during the past decade.

The Hunt for Howard Marks

Documentary Frontline 1990. For 20 years, one man – Oxford-educated Dennis Howard Marks – was responsible for running an international drug market that shipped marijuana into the US by the ton. Frontline tells the story of the man who believed that he was too smart to be caught-and the DEA agent who was determined to prove him wrong.

When Cops Go Bad

Documentary Frontline 1990. The corrupting influence of drug money is now listed as the number one threat to the integrity of police forces. Frontline investigates this crisis in three communities in Florida, California, and New Jersey.

Inside the Cartel

Documentary Frontline 1990 How serious is Colombia’s war on drugs? Frontline investigates the drug cartels in Medellin and Cali and demonstrates how they’ve become part of the country’s political and economic life.

Who Profits from Drugs

Documentary Frontline 1989. Frontline investigates how the American economy uses the profits from the illegal drug trade. The program documents a network of lawyers, real estate developers, stock brokers, and bankers who launder drug proceeds through ‘legitimate’ businesses in Miami, Boston, and Dallas.

Guns, Drugs, and the CIA

Documentary Frontline 1988. A Frontline investigation examines the CIA’s long history of involvement with drug smugglers in trouble spots around the world and how the agency has defended its alliances with drug dealers under the cloak of ‘national security.’

Stopping Drugs

Documentary Frontline 1987. A two-part special examining efforts to stamp out drugs. Part 1 examines the personal struggles of addicts trying to kick the habit and the effectiveness of drug treatment programs. Part 2 journeys into America’s schools to find out if drugs are really a major problem and if anti-drug efforts are working.


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