Saturday, October 16, 2010

Substance use in movies and documentaries

Most everyone likes films and substance use long has been a central theme in films and documentaries, from the 1930s to the present.

A comprehensive website created by Dr. Russell Curtis from the Department of Sociology at the University of Houston catalogues films portraying substance use as a central theme from 1935 – 2003.   While the site has a disclaimer: “IMPORTANT:  this is for research; not for quotation or general distribution”, it really is worth viewing if you are interested in this film genre.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have sponsored research reports on Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music, Substance Use in Popular Prime Time Television, and Substance Use in Popular Music Videos.

There also are a number of websites simply listing, describing, and/or ranking films and documentaries with substance use themes, including (shown in no particular order):

Chasing the Frog, Epinions, Listverse, Associated Content, Wikipedia, Bukisa, and Oddfilms.

CPDD has recognized the importance of films and documentaries in communicating the causes, consequences, and effects of substance abuse.

In 2007, producers of the HBO documentary series “ADDICTION” (Nevins, Hoffman, Froemke), won the CPDD/NIDA Media Award.  “ADDICTION” includes several excellent films that can be streamed online.

In 2008, CPDD started including a movie or “Film Night” as part of its annual meeting program.  The film “The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) was shown.  It portrays life among heroin addicts living in “Needle Park” New York City.  It won Best Actress award (Winn) at the Cannes Film Festival.  Also shown was “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), the story of an alcoholic who falls in love with a young woman he encourages to join him in his addiction.  The film won an Oscar for Best Original Song (Mancini and Mercer).

In 2009, “Fighting the Dragon with Luck” (an independent documentary film on heroin addiction treatment in Australia, 2008) was shown along with “Clean and Sober” (1988), the story of a realtor’s life turned upside down by cocaine.

In 2010, two films were shown including “Narcotic Farm” (based on the book by the same name published by the 2009 CPDD/NIDA Media Award Winner Dr. Nancy Campbell), which is a documentary on the history of drugs, policy, and research, along with “Lost Weekend” (a story about a struggle with alcoholism).  Lost Weekend won 4 Oscars (Best Leading Actor (Milland), Best Director (Wilder), Best Picture, and Best Screenplay, in 1946.

It is my understanding that plans are in the works to continue having a Film Night at the CPDD annual meeting—any suggestions?

CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on this issue.


  1. Dirk Hanson at Addiction Inbox posted a very interesting comparison of alcohol protrayals in European versus American movies:

  2. A research study utilized functional MRI and smoking themes in movies to document that smokers' brains simulate smoking-related movements in response to smoking-related scenes:

    An article about this study can be found at:

    and that article included the following URLs to movies including smoking scenes:

  3. The film American Meth can be added to the listings above. Justin Hunt, who developed, produced and directed the film, won the 2011 CPDD/NIDA Media Award. The story can be found in this blog at:


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