Adding fuel to an already blazing fire, D.A.R.E. recently released a statement criticizing the hit HBO show Euphoria for “glamourizing” drug use. While the subject isn’t new, the specifically graphic portrayal of addiction shown in teen and YA television today has been the subject of a lot of controversy, causing understandable worry for parents and guardians. This blog explores opposing viewpoints surrounding the age-old question: is modern American media influencing teen drug use? And if so, should you be monitoring what your kid watches?
The Series Regulars is a blog that features the thoughts of teen and young adult contributors on popular television programs of today. In the wake of Season One of Euphoria, contributor Sarah Dowell wrote: “Our fear about this show, no matter the brilliance behind it, is that it may glorify opiates in a culture that already seeks opiates.” She goes on to explain how, despite showing the graphic deterioration of the narrator at the hands of drugs, you still get to hear her thought process on the soothing effects of opiates for her mental health issues. 
One Vice article featured short opinion paragraphs submitted by teenagers ages 15-18, asking them if they thought Euphoria was a realistic – and potentially dangerous—portrayal of modern high school. A few had less-than-rave reviews.
Some contributors don’t sugar coat their concerns. One 15-year-old writes: “They’re dealing with a lot of heavy stuff that needs to be talked about, so I respect them for that, but overall, I think they’re normalizing it and making it seem like all of these problems are happening within the world of one person.” 
Other teenagers felt that their peers may have the opportunity to see their experiences reflected to them in this sort of content, and maybe give them a chance to see a different perspective. “I believe Euphoria is exactly what TV needed,” one 16-year-old wrote. “–an honest and raw look at the damaging and dangerous side of ‘harmless’ drugs…As outsiders, we easily question why [addicts] keep using, but now we understand the feeling of comfort it provides the user.” 
Another New York Times article featured the thoughts of two formerly substance dependent women. While neither vehemently condemn the show, contributor #1 shows reservations, stating that “even though “Euphoria” showed addiction’s consequences, it still fed the idea that heavy drug use was normal and exposed it to people who otherwise might not have been exposed.” 
Contributor #2 doesn’t seem as concerned, arguing that not everyone who uses drugs is susceptible to getting hooked. “If you’re going to get influenced, you’re going to get influenced…It doesn’t matter if it’s a show or an ad for beer. It’s all about the kind of person you are.” 
The Vulture also featured an article written by a person formerly dependent on opiates and their thoughts: “Similar to how abstinence-only sex education is a resounding failure, so is the abstinence-only “this is your brain on drugs” propaganda at which Euphoria chips away.” 
A 2019 American Addiction Center study showed that exposure to movie depictions of alcohol strongly predicts early onset of drinking and binge drinking in U.S. adolescents, as well as increased consumption of popular music being associated with marijuana use. While its not exactly Euphoria, it speaks to the correlation of media and drug use.
However, an opposing article from the New York Times cites a longstanding survey conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan. To argue that despite Euphoria’s success as a series, it doesn’t seem to have much direct impact on the behavior of teens today. Only 0.5 percent of 10th graders now report having used a hallucinogen in the last month. That’s about a third of the rate in the late 1990s. In 2018, only 19 percent of 10th graders reported having consumed an alcoholic beverage in the prior 30 days, down from more than 40 percent in the 1990s.The article even suggests that as fewer teenagers use substances, doing so actually becomes more stigmatized and less cool.
And so, with the facts laid out, it seems the only definitive answer surrounding this debate is that there is none. Some feel exposure to these types of media can generate open and honest discussion about the realities of drugs and eliminate the mystery surrounding them. Others feel it creates curiosity and glorification and misconceptions of drugs, especially without proper drug education first. The important takeaway is, whether you decide to limit media or not, to continue to have honest conversations about the realities of drug use and addiction with your children and establish an open line of communication about these types of topics early.
If you suspect you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, Livengrin is here to help. Contact us at 215-638-5200 or at email@example.com.