The popularity of television shows like Intervention and Breaking Bad have turned addiction and substance abuse from a TV taboo into a topic that’s almost inescapable.
Almost every turn of the dial reveals another fictionalized character suffering from substance abuse. Some might argue that depicting the nuances of addiction on television is nearly impossible, or that these TV portrayals trivialize the struggles of those using drugs or alcohol every day.
But humanizing addiction through beloved characters (or characters that viewers love to hate) may ultimately encourage a more open-minded and sympathetic perspective from those who haven’t experienced the disease or seen the consequences of it firsthand on friends, family, or loved ones.
Consider characters like Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman or Iron Man’s Tony Stark. Although Jesse used and sold drugs, he was considered the show’s “good guy” and a fan favorite. But that doesn’t mean he was immune to the consequences of his substance abuse – he loses his girlfriend to an overdose after they use drugs together, and ends up living a life that breaks him down mentally and emotionally.
Tony Stark is a literal superhero, but his struggles with alcohol cause him to lose close friends and frighten colleagues during a scene in Iron Man 2. In the Iron Man comic books, Tony loses his company, Stark Industries, due to his alcohol abuse.
Both of these characters represent a growing trend of well-rounded (although not necessarily realistic) and well-liked fictional characters whose lives have been affected by addiction.
Withdrawal.net, a website dedicating to helping its visitors find treatment, developed an interactive infographic highlighting 31 characters from TV or feature films who have dealt with addiction and its consequences, including Peter Russo from House of Cards, Don Draper from Mad Men, and Dr. Gregory House from House.
Click below to explore it yourself, and examine whether you think these characters help or hurt the way people think of those suffering from addiction.