Many movies about teenage drugs and alcohol glorify a lifestyle that isn’t as glamorous as the media makes it seem. In fact, it’s pretty harmful. Underage consumption of drugs and alcohol hinders brain development and devastates decision making abilities; not to mention the strain it puts on relationships and self-esteem.
Unfortunately, teen drug use is an issue that many families are well-acquainted with. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 10.2% of eighth graders tried illicit substances in 2021, while 32% of high school seniors had done the same. And while many films glorify underage substance abuse, others tell stories which remind teens that it’s always better to just say, “No.”
Here are six movies and TV shows that discuss teen addiction, serving as a reminder that teens should think about the consequences before they act.
Intervention is an A&E documentary series that observes individuals suffering from drug or alcohol addiction and shows the interventions that led to them choosing sobriety. Not every participant of Intervention is a teen, but many are, and this show doesn’t shy away from revealing how emotionally and physically harmful addiction is.
Reliance on drugs and alcohol isn’t the only form of addiction, however, and Intervention understands that. The show also explores individuals’ (including teens’) addictions to social media, gambling, and video games. Intervention reminds viewers that all forms of addiction are harmful—to both the addict and their loved ones. Troomi understands the potential harm of social media addiction, which is why their phones eliminate the anxiety-inducing applications entirely, making a Troomi phone the best smartphone for your kids.
Recovery Road ran for one season on Freeform (the former ABC Family), before it was canceled in 2016. This teen drama follows Maddie Graham, a high school honors student who develops a dependency on drugs and alcohol. When her school counselor finds a water bottle filled with a suspicious clear liquid in her locker, Maddie moves to a rehab center to focus on living a sober life.
Working towards sobriety isn’t easy, and Recovery Road shows viewers just how taxing rehabilitation can be. It’s a Freeform series, so be prepared for a little cheese and a whole lot of heart.
When high school dancer Amanda dislocates her knee, the doctor gives her hydrocodone to help with the pain. Her friends take advantage of Amanda’s prescription, and encourage her to start abusing the painkiller with them. Their drug-related habits continue to escalate as the group of friends turn to harder and harder substances until one of them pushes it too far and overdoses.
Perfect High shows how drug addiction develops over time and reminds teen viewers that the consequences of saying “yes” are never worth it. The movie is pretty honest in its depiction of drug use, so bring a box of tissues to the couch with you.
The Secret Life of Zoey
Like Perfect High, The Secret Life of Zoey is a Lifetime movie that follows an honors student who develops an unhealthy dependency on prescription drugs to help cope with depression and anxiety. After a failed stint in rehab and a subsequent overdose, Zoey returns to rehab to work on her sobriety and fight the hold her addiction has on her.
The Secret Life of Zoey reminds viewers that there are infinitely better ways to approach depression and anxiety than through self-medication. If this sounds familiar, remember to be there as support for your teen. Encourage them to meet with a doctor or professional therapist—these professionals can help you know what steps you and your child should take next.
OxyContin: Time Bomb
Rated: Suitable for 13 and up
Documentaries are one of my favorite ways to learn, and OxyContin: Time Bomb is a fascinating look at how OxyContin addiction fueled the ongoing opioid epidemic. This 2012 Canadian documentary features interviews with people suffering from opioid addiction as well as interviews with medical professionals who explore the reasoning behind opioid addiction—and its consequences.
You can watch OxyContin: Time Bomb here on YouTube.
Rated: Suitable for 13 and up
Another short documentary that explores teen addiction, The Overtaken spotlights teens that suffered from drug addiction and discusses how their dependency and subsequent overdoses dramatically altered the course of their lives. The Overtaken shows that stereotypes often associated with drug abuse are not productive, and that anyone can fall victim to drug and alcohol abuse.
You can watch The Overtaken here on YouTube.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
If you’re worried that your teen is struggling with substance abuse, talk with them about what’s happening and discuss how you can help. It may be scary and overwhelming, but lead with love and an open heart and remind your child that you’re there to support them.
You’re not alone. There are so many local groups and organizations dedicated to helping families navigate substance dependency and rehabilitation safely and carefully. With the Internet, these support groups are more accessible than ever—a quick Google search is all it takes. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need to. After all, even parents need help every now and then.