The Female Addict in Visual Media

Addiction, drugs, and the addict have been around since the beginning of time. Whether addicted to tobacco, alcohol, or heroin, all cause harm to the body and mind. Once media became more advanced, people of all kinds were being represented in visual media; film, television, and eventually, the internet. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “in 2012 there were 156,000 persons aged 12 or older who had used heroin for the first time within the past 12 months.” Females are less likely to use illicit drugs than males (Substance…”). Females are represented in a different light than males no matter what they may be representing in popular culture media. When it comes to drug addiction, talking mainly about heroin and opiate addiction, females are usually seen using their bodies to get money to get drugs or trading themselves, sexually, to get the drugs themselves. Just because film and television show female addicts in this light, does not mean this is always true and we will take a look at a few different movies, SpunRequiem for a DreamCandy, and a few episodes of the television show Breaking Bad. Only a couple episodes of Breaking Bad fit into the topic for this essay, the ones in focus involve the character Jesse Pinkman’s girlfriend, Jane Margolis.
In the film, Requiem for a Dream, actress Jennifer Connelly plays one of the most daring roles of her career, that of a women named Marion Silver, a young woman with the world at the palm of her hands until drugs overcame anything she ever was. The movie takes place through three seasons, summer, fall and autumn, starting out with dreams and a passion to open a clothing store featuring her designs, to completely unraveling life due to increase drug use. Marion’s first encounter of sexual exchange is when her boyfriend, Harry Goldfarb, played by Jared Leto, convinces her to have sex with her psychiatrist in exchange for money. After that, things for Marion quickly fall apart. There is a scene in which Marion meets with a pimp named Little John and she performs a sexual act on him in exchange for money or drugs, the movie doesn’t specify what exactly. After the scene is over Marion is seen in fetal position, head submerged under water, in a drawn bath, trying to “clean” herself of what she’s done, screaming under water, a very powerful scene. This movie portrays everything negative about female drug use. Roger Ebert wrote a review of the film and sums up what an addict feels the moment the drug overcomes their body, no matter what way their method of use is.

“What is fascinating about “Requiem for a Dream,” the new film by Darren Aronofsky, is how well he portrays the mental states of his addicts. When they use, a window opens briefly into a world where everything is right. Then it slides shut, and life reduces itself to a search for the money and drugs to open it again. Nothing else is remotely as interesting” (Ebert).
The reason I quoted this entire paragraph from the review is because he really sums up how a drug addict lives their life, everyday, no matter what else is going on in the world or in their life, this comes first, the drug comes before everything and everyone. Marion lives her life like this, the drug even comes before her own body, her mind, and soul (Aronofsky). As a woman who has overcome drug addiction, specifically opiate addiction, Marion doesn’t portray every female addict, not all use their body for drugs or money. Another false portrayal of all female addicts or addicts in general is that there is nothing positive going on in their lives. For example, I first used in my senior year of high school and battled addiction for quite a few years before conquering it altogether. Throughout my entire addiction I took care of myself financially, always had a job, graduated high school with great grades, and went off to community college and then headed to a university.
I knew no matter what I searched through popular culture media that I would get the same sort of portrayals of female addicts because that is what sales in film; sad, depressing, drama filled movies. As I kept searching female addicts in popular culture media, I was reminded of the television show, Breaking Bad. Most of this series focuses on methamphetamine production, use, and distribution. However, during season 2 Jane is introduced to the show, Jesse’s landlord and soon to be girlfriend. While the show doesn’t feature much about Jane herself, she still portrays the same kind of female addict any other popular culture media would feature a female addict other than using her body for drugs or money (she didn’t need to because Jesse sold drugs and made enough for them both). A movie that portrays female addicts in the same light as Breaking Bad is the movie Spun directed by Jonas Åkerlund. This movie is a little different than the others featured in this essay because this movie is all about methamphetamine, not opiates or heroin. However there are a few different female addicts featured in this movie; Nikki played by Brittany Murphy and Cookie played by Mena Suvari, both are out of character roles for the actresses due to the harsh reality of female addicts. These female addicts are similar to Jane in Breaking Bad because none of the three are shown or hinted of using sex or their bodies for drugs or money. This is one of those films that if you have never been around drugs or know anything about them besides what you see on TV, you might not understand these women and how there seems to be no point to the movie. I particularly love the character Nikki; she has more to herself than just the drugs. She wants to get out of that lifestyle and be reunited with her son again. In Requiem for a Dream and Spun, no other female character shows the actual courage to begin the process of restarting their life as Nikki does and that is a powerful, hard thing to do when addicted to drugs. Maybe she appealed to me in the sense that a little bit of her reminded me of myself, not all the craziness her life revolved around but that flicker of hope still inside her heart that there is something better, her life is worth living, and she will fight for it one way or another and that flicker, no matter how small it may be, is what will carry you through to the other side of the dark, cold, lonely, drug addiction (Åkerlund).
After reading, watching, and researching female drug addiction, it can start to drain you. There seems to be a lot of “no hope” type of movies. That was until I watched the movie, Candy, a marvelous Australian movie starring Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish playing Dan and Candy. Although this movie pulls at the audience heart, you can’t help but cheer for Dan and Candy to work through this life they have created for themselves, a drug infested, so called, life. The movie is organized in three acts, Heaven, Earth, and Hell. While this movie is centered on the relationship between Candy and Dan, I am specifically looking at Candy. In Heaven, Candy is a young art student, beautiful blonde, the apple of her father’s eye. Drugs and sex are a part of the young couple’s life. In earth, reality starts to sink in of the severity of the addiction for Candy. She starts prostituting to be able to buy drugs for her and Dan. She ends up getting pregnant by Dan and they make an effort to get clean but the baby does not make it. Hell; Candy looses herself, the drugs have taken such a mental and emotional toll on Candy she has a complete mental breakdown and ends up getting the help she needs and gets clean. I love this movie; it shows the hope that is out there for any female struggling with addiction. I relate the most to Candy because she looked normal, she wanted a better life for herself, and struggled to finally get that life back (Armfield). There is nothing pretty or glamorous about addiction but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence or the end of the story. My story has only begun.
Works Cited
Primary Sources: 
Åkerlund, Jonas, dir. Spun. Prod. Timothy Peternel, Danny Vinik, and Chris Hanley. Newmarket Capital Group, 2002. Film. 23 Feb 2014.
Aronofsky, Darren, dir. Requiem for a Dream. Prod. Palmer West, and Prod. Eric Watson.           Artisan Entertainment, 2000. Film. 23 Feb 2014.
Armfield, Neil, dir. Candy. Prod. Margaret Fink, and Emily Sherman. Renaissance Films, 2006.   Film. 23 Feb 2014.
Secondary Sources:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental            Health Services Administration, 2013.
Ebert, Roger. “Requiem for a Dream.” Roger Ebert. Ebert Digital LLC, 03 Nov 2000. Web. 24 Feb 2014. <;.



6 thoughts on “The Female Addict in Visual Media

  1. This essay is a window into a subject of taboo nature, too often are the addicts overlooked. If they are noticed they are seen as someone who seemingly nothing going for them. This essay does a great job of showing the more human side of addiction through personal reflection and a great use of artifacts. As someone who has used a few different illicit substances as well, I am fully aware of the effects these substances have on the mind. While I never had the problems of dealing with addiction, I know that for some people it is a rough journey going through it. This essay also had examples of those who overcame addiction in contrast to those who didn’t and were consumed by it, making for a well rounded and thought out essay. I felt a little more informed about the image of the addict, and I would be very surprised if people did not walk away from this essay feeling the same way I did.

    • I agree, it is taboo but I think it needs to not be considered taboo. If more people were aware about addiction and what an addict needs to get help, more of them would reach out for help because succumbing to a horrible end of overdosing or ruining their entire lives because of addiction. You are one of the lucky ones, to have not become addicted to the drugs or whatever it was you tried. It only takes one try to become a full fledge addict. Thank you for the positive feedback, I appreciate it!


  2. Megan,

    I like this topic and think that it is important that it is discussed, but I did notice a few things that could be worked on before the final draft. The first, and probably most important, thing I noticed was a lack of a clear thesis, I wasn’t sure what the essay was trying to prove to me or even what exactly it was going to be about by the end of the first paragraph. The few other things I noticed are all technical. Paragraphs need indenting, a few statements need to be cited or reworked, the four line long quote from Ebert needs to be indented and the huge paragraph starting with “The reason I quoted…” could be cut up in to at least two, but probably three paragraphs.

    Thanks for the read!

    • Thank you for the feedback. All my paragraphs are indented and what not but when I copied it to the blog, as most others essays as well, they don’t indent right.

  3. Hi there!
    I couldn’t help but read your blog at least two times. I thought it was wonderfully written and holds a lot of insight and experience. All of your examples and your own experiences made your paper really strong and heartfelt to read.
    I also remember watching Requiem for a Dream and being like this is one of the most depressing films I have ever watched. It’s interesting that media can twist stereotypes like this and create a whole reality and life for individuals that have suffered from addiction. Your analysis had really great insight on this!
    Thanks for the blog read and good job!

    • Thank you so much, it was extremely hard to put everything personal out like this but I felt compelled to do so just in case I could help someone else out there struggling. Requiem for a Dream is an extremely hard movie to watch, I saw it once and then one more time years later, before writing this essay. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again, too heartbreaking. However, things like that do happen in real life. Media can twist reality when it comes to just about anything! Thank you for the positive feedback!


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