The role of the media in substance abuse and addiction can be a double-edged sword. The media — including TV, films, and music — has been known to glorify drug and alcohol use and make it appear “cool.” This can influence people, especially young people, into mimicking these dangerous behaviors.
The role of television can also be positive, however. It can show all the different sides of addiction — the damage it can do both to you and to those around you. It can also highlight the struggles that accompany addiction and offer a realistic view of recovery, helping others in recovery to recognize that they are not alone and that their feelings are valid.
Nearly 15 percent of the population ages 12 and older in the United States had a substance use disorder in 2020, which amounts to more than 40 million individuals. Addiction is common and far-reaching.
First aired in March 2005 on A&E, the show Intervention is a documentary with each episode following one or two individuals with drug and/or alcohol addiction. The show centers on interventions that are aimed at getting people directly into rehab programs.
Each episode details the destruction of drugs and alcohol on the social and family circle and the role of an intervention. It often offers follow-up features about the person’s recovery in shorts on the web or future episodes.
The show has aired more than 280 episodes and is currently in its 24th season. You can watch it on A&E or stream it here.
A television series that began on TLC in 2010, Addicted moved over to Discovery Life for the second season in 2012. This show follows the family interventionist Kristina Wandzilak as she works with people with addiction and their families to help them get the help needed for recovery. She uses her past experiences with substance abuse and addiction to promote recovery.
The show highlights the emotional journey of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction within families. You can stream Addicted on Discovery +.
3. Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew
Premiering on VH1 in January 2008, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew is a reality tv show that follows a group of celebrities being treated by Dr. Drew Pinsky and staff at the Pasadena Recovery Center in Pasadena, California.
It ran for five seasons before transitioning to Rehab with Dr. Drew for the sixth and final season in 2012. You can stream episodes on VH1 using your TV provider information.
A sitcom that aired from 2013 through 2021, Mom followed a dysfunctional mother and daughter, Bonnie and Christie Plunkett (played by Anna Ferris and Allison Janney), who struggled with addiction while estranged. They are attempting to rebuild their lives together in recovery while attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
The show was filmed before a live audience for eight seasons. It addresses real-life issues surrounding alcohol and drug abuse, addiction, relapse, and recovery while maintaining humor surrounding these dark issues. Mom can be streamed on Hulu.
An American teen drama adapted from an Israeli show of the same name, Euphoria follows a recovering teen addict Rue Bennett (Zendaya) and her high school group as they try to navigate life. Premiering in 2019, Euphoria is in its second season and has been renewed for a third season on HBO.
The show begins with Rue freshly out of rehab and explores many real-life issues surrounding adolescent drug and alcohol abuse, addiction, love, loss, and high school in the fictional town of East Highland. You can watch Euphoria on HBO or stream it on HBO Max.
Released in 2011, Shameless is an American comedy drama adapted from a British series of the same name.
Shameless is a Showtime original show set in Chicago, Illinois, that follows a poor, dysfunctional family led by a single father Frank Gallagher (William H. Macey) who is an alcoholic and a drug addict. The six children are mostly left to fend for themselves.
7. Nurse Jackie
The show Nurse Jackie is a medical comedy-drama that focuses on an emergency department nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) and her struggles with prescription drug abuse and addiction. Jackie relies on Percocet, Xanax, and Vicodin to cope and make it through her crazy days in the emergency room in a New York City hospital.
The show ran from 2009 for seven seasons until 2015 on Showtime. You can stream episodes on Apple TV.
8. This Is Us
Not necessarily a show just about drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, This Is Us is a family drama series that follows the lives of the Pearson family — the two parents, their three kids, and their families with multiple children — across various different time periods. The show flashes between current and past time periods. Several of the main characters struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, and many real-life situations and circumstances are dealt with in this show.
This Is Us details life stressors and difficulties for an entire extended family unit and how different people cope. It premiered in September 2016 on CBS and ran for six seasons until May 2022. It can be watched on NBC or streamed on NBC.com.
9. Recovery Road
Based on the 2011 young adult novel by Blake Nelson, Recovery Road is a teenage drama television series that initially premiered on ABC Family in 2015 before transitioning to Freeform in 2016.
Recovery Road is a show based on the teenage girl Maddie (Jessica Sula) with a partier reputation who is faced with the decision between expulsion or rehab from her high school guidance counselor. She opts to live in a sober living facility while still managing the daily life struggles of being a teenage girl.
You can stream all 10 episodes of the single season on Hulu.
A romantic comedy-drama co-created by Jude Apatow, Love premiered on Netflix in 2016 and ran for three seasons. Love follows the romantic relationship of the main characters of Mickey (Jillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust). Mickey is an alcoholic and a love/sex addict, and Gus also has emotional baggage and difficulties.
The show focuses on the issues of two untrustworthy people trying to find love and cultivate a trusting and positive modern relationship together. It depicts the difficulties of alcohol addiction and the toll it can take on relationships, leading to further trust issues and more problems.
Mickey is rebellious, while Gus is good natured and socially awkward. You can stream Love on Netflix.
- Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2021). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Intervention. (2022). A&E Television Networks, Inc.
- Addicted. (2022). Warner Bros, Discovery, Inc.
- Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. (2022). Viacom International Inc.
- Mom. (2022). Hulu, LLC.
- Euphoria. (2022). Home Box Office, Inc.
- Shameless. Netflix.
- Showtime. (2022). Showtime Digital Inc.
- Nurse Jackie. (2022). Apple Inc.
- This Is Us. (2022). NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
- Recovery Road. (2022). Hulu, LLC.
- Love. Netflix.