5 TV Shows That Tackle the Nuances of Addiction and Recovery

tv shows about addiction
courtesy HBO

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It’s only been within the last decade or two that TV shows have truly attempted to tackle the realities of addiction, alcoholism, and recovery.

Back in the 90s, TV shows handled the topic with the same nuance as an after-school special. The message was always the same. Drugs = bad.

But they never actually dealt with the realities of addiction and just how difficult recovery is.

Luckily, things have since changed. Recent shows like HBO’s teen hit Euphoria show an unflinching portrayal of the harsh realities of what the illness of addiction really looks like.

Below is a list of shows that tried to tackle what addiction and recovery actually look like.

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with addiction, please reach out to an addiction helpline. You can also look for rehab centers, like Enterhealth, to help you on your recovery journey.

1. Euphoria (HBO)

euphoria season 1 addiction
courtesy HBO

“Drugs are kind of cool. I mean, they’re cool before they wreck your skin. And your life. And your family. That’s when they get uncool. It’s actually a very narrow window of cool.” – Rue Bennett

We’re obviously going to start with Euphoria, which has been hailed for its realistic portrayal of drug addiction in teens.

In case you somehow still haven’t seen it, Euphoria follows 17-year-old Rue (Zendaya) after she returns home from a stint of rehab. After coming home, she immediately goes to visit her drug dealer, ready to go back to her old ways. The show portrays how incredibly easy it is for Rue to obtain drugs and also to fool her mother into believing that she’s sober.

Rue’s recovery isn’t linear as she constantly struggles, especially since she’s simultaneously dealing with depression.

Euphoria is definitely a much-watch but might be a bit triggering if you’ve ever struggled with addiction yourself.

You can currently watch Euphoria season 1 and “Special Part 1: Rue” and “Special Part 2: Jules” on HBO Max. The show has been renewed but season 2 has no official release date yet.

2. Shameless (Showtime)

tv shows about alcoholism
credit: Showtime

“Drinking turns the volume down. It makes the world more tolerable.” – Lip Gallagher

Shameless (U.S) follows the Gallagher family as they struggle to keep their heads above water despite their deadbeat, alcoholic father Frank (William H. Macy).

For the first several seasons, alcoholism and addiction merely just exists in the show without being explored. It isn’t until the oldest son Lip starts to experience alcoholism himself that the show takes the illness seriously.

The series follows Lip all the way from his lowest lows to his stint at rehab (with the help of a professor) to his recovery.

Shameless doesn’t shy away from the truths of alcoholism and how recovery is a lifelong battle. Sobriety is something that Lip must fight for every day.

You can watch the first 10 seasons of Shameless on Netflix and the 11th and final season on Showtime.

3. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

tv shows addiction
courtesy Netflix

“I’ve had a lot of what I thought were rock bottoms only to discover another, rockier bottom underneath.” – BoJack Horseman

The animated series BoJack Horseman follows a washed-up actor who struggles to make a comeback amid suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, self-hatred, and depression.

For most of the series, BoJack believes he is unfixable and that he is destined to be a horrible horse with no chance at salvation.

We watch as BoJack continues to sabotage himself and everyone around him, including a former child star who he took on a months-long bender only for her to end up dead.

It isn’t until the end that we finally see BoJack take responsibility for his life and make the tough decision that he wants to change himself. He goes to rehab and starts doing the work. And it’s hard. Incredibly hard.

Because, as BoJack Horseman shows, alcoholism and addiction aren’t merely about getting sober. It often means confronting your demons and finally doing some introspection.

You can currently watch all six seasons of BoJack Horseman on Netflix.

4. Feel Good (Netflix)

feel good netflix renewed season 2
courtesy Netflix

“Aren’t you guys tired, from like, trying to do the right thing all the time? When was the last time any of us felt any joy?” – Mae Martin

Inspired by the real life of comedian Mae Martin, Feel Good follows Mae as she enters into a relationship with a straight woman, George.

Mae is still struggling with her history of drug addiction and her addictive personality causes her to latch on to George in an unhealthy way.

Mae attempts to get help and stay sober with help from her Narcotics Anonymous group and her new quirky sponsor.

Feel Good shows how addiction and recovery can seep into every other aspect of a person’s life and can impact their relationships. It looks at a larger view of recovery and how addiction can show up in other places of your life that you might not expect.

You can watch the first season of Feel Good on Netflix. The series has been renewed for a second and final season.

5. New Amsterdam (NBC)

tv shows addiction recovery
credit: NBC

“The last few weeks, it was too much. I hit a wall. And I’ve been taking a little more Adderall than prescribed.” – Dr. Lauren Bloom

With only three seasons under its belt, New Amsterdam is a relatively new medical drama.

Although the series largely focuses on the hospital’s new medical director Max Goodwin and his attempts to change the healthcare system, we also follow a whole host of other hospital staff members including Dr. Lauren Bloom.

Lauren is the head of the ER and finds that the only way she can handle her intense job is by taking Adderall. She mostly hides her addiction from her co-workers but is eventually forced to come clean when her addiction starts affecting her work.

We eventually watch Lauren’s recovery process as she heads to rehab, where she struggles significantly. Her recovery also forces her to confront her childhood traumas.

Although Lauren has remained clean, she still struggles with recovery every day. New Amsterdam makes it clear that addiction is an illness that is not to be taken lightly and does a great job of showing a different type of addiction than we’re used to seeing on TV.

You can currently watch all three seasons of New Amsterdam on Hulu.


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