4 Great Documentaries About Substance Use Disorders

Substance Use Documentary's

If you are anything like us at The Wagon, you love a good documentary. Here, we share four great documentaries about substance use disorders and the ensuing, devastating consequences. 

There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

In the summer of 2009, 36-year-old Diane Schuler drove the wrong way for two miles on New York’s Taconic Parkway. Doing 85 mph, she crashed head-on into another vehicle, killing eight people including herself and four children. An autopsy revealed that Schuler was heavily intoxicated, with a blood alcohol content of .19%. THC and six grams of undigested alcohol were also found in her system. 

The HBO/Max documentary introduces us to Schuler’s widower and sister-in-law, who are in deep denial about Diane’s alcoholism. They refuse to believe that she drank that day, insisting that she had some mystery medical emergency instead — despite the forensic analysis and the bottle of vodka found in her vehicle.

This documentary reminds me that alcoholism is a family disease and alcoholic denial can also affect loved ones — even when staring at scientific fact, concrete evidence, and eight dead bodies. 

How to Fix a Drug Scandal

The Massachusetts criminal system was turned upside down when Sonja Farak, a Forensic Chemist at a crime lab in Amherst, consumed the drugs seized during arrests that she was meant to analyze. Over a ten-year period, Farak skimmed off the top of the drugs that came into the lab, using the evidence to fuel her insatiable drug addiction. 

But this Netflix documentary is about more than an addict tampering with Exhibit A to get high. It’s a story about the failings of the state’s law enforcement agencies and judicial system. The fallout from Farak’s crimes led to the dismissal of 44,000 drug convictions. District Attorney David Sullivan said Farak’s dereliction “shook the very foundation of our criminal justice system.” 

A very simple (and logical) way this could have been prevented was if the crime lab drug-tested its employees. You know, the ones that were handling all the drugs confiscated in western MA. But the film also shows that addicts are crafty, and will go to any lengths to feed their habit. 

Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God

This Max documentary was so wild, we dedicated an entire post to it. Drugs and alcohol use aside, this story quickly torpedoes into madness. Amy Carlson, a 45-year-old drug addict and alcoholic fancied herself a 9 billion-year-old god and somehow attracted a small following of deranged, wayward cult members who genuinely believed in her delusions. 

Aside from the shenanigans of the cult’s stoned and drunken escapades, we watch Carlson drink herself to death with booze and colloidal silver. Instead of employing measures to save her life, the cult encourages her deadly behavior believing that she will “ascend” into the fifth dimension on a starship carrying Robin Williams (you read that right). 

Unsurprisingly, she dies — which isn’t a spoiler because the documentary opens with a view of her mummified corpse. This film is a grave reminder of how insulation and enabling can sometimes be a bigger killer than addiction itself. 

Recovery Boys

This Netflix film follows the story of four young men battling opioid addiction while in a West Virginia rehab called Jacob’s Ladder. Located on a farm, the long-term residential rehab offers holistic rehabilitation for patients which includes “mindful” farming, meditation, and music and arts programs. 

What captivated me about this documentary was not only how beautifully it’s executed, but how authentic it is. If you have never been to rehab, chances are you don’t know what happens at one. This documentary provides a glimpse into what rehab can be like, but also depicts the mental, physical, and emotional anguish some people face in early sobriety. However, we see their perseverance, and gratitude for the program as they inch their way along in recovery. 

But things start to fall apart when the boys graduate to a sober living house and are left to their own devices. And as is often the case with addiction, by the middle of the film, we don’t know if any of the four boys will make it. 

Do you have a favorite documentary about addiction or recovery? Share it with us in the comments! We need something to do this weekend.


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