Philadelphia Outpatient Program Uses Movies To Treat Recovering Addicts

By Brent McCluskey 12/10/14

Despite treatment professionals' claims about addiction movies being helpful, many addicts have said they've wanted to relapse after seeing drug use on screen.

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Young Leo in The Basketball Diaries. Photo via

Those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in Philadelphia are watching Hollywood movies as part of their outpatient group therapy program.

Outpatient programs are sending recovering addicts to the movies approximately once a month. While the programs are supposed to help recovering addicts stay clean, many patients reported the movies actually made them crave the substances they were trying to quit. Treatment providers argue that watching movies can be helpful, but medical professionals have expressed their doubts.

“[A movie] might stimulate a conversation, but it could also stimulate a relapse, especially movies that are graphic and realistic,” said Howard Shaffer, director of the Division on Addiction at Cambridge Health Alliance and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Some of the patients, like Tiffany Anderson, 25, said they felt like using after watching certain movies like The Basketball Diaries, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a heroin addict, and 28 Days, with Sandra Bullock as a woman in the throes of alcoholism.

“It makes you want to use because it reminds you how good you feel when you’re high, how it numbs everything and you don’t have no worries,” said Anderson. “The movies don’t help, it’s just something else to keep you there. [The clinic] makes money from us going to group [therapy].”
Community Behavioral Health, a major player in managing funds for substance-abuse and mental-health services for Medicaid recipients in Philadelphia, said they support the use of movies in a clinical setting as long as there is a “clinical rationale,” but others in the medical field advise against it.

“You just don’t throw the cues at someone without teaching them how to deal with them,” said John Caccioala, a senior scientist at the Treatment Research Institute. “If it occurred once a month, would I say it’s terrible? No. Would I say it’s optimal? Probably not that either.”

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.