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Transmission

March 3, 2022

“Drugs are kind of cool,” Rue, the main character in HBO’s hit dramatization of high school life, “Euphoria,” said. “I mean, they’re cool before they wreck your skin, and your life, and your family. That’s when they get uncool. It’s actually a very narrow window of cool.”

“Euphoria” depicts the reasons behind why teenagers turn to drugs and the negative consequences of using them. The series demonstrates that teenagers, like Rue, sometimes turn to drugs to momentarily relieve themselves from the pain of a mental health issue while others try drugs out of curiosity. The serious possibility and danger of overdosing is also illustrated.

Displaying drug usage in the media, such as “Euphoria” does, produces various reactions from viewers. Most commonly, the response is either disapproval for the mere depiction of drug use or praise for the realism shown.

Upon its release on HBO, D.A.R.E. — the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program — denounced “Euphoria” for glamorizing and normalizing drug use.

The second anonymous source agrees with the conclusion drawn by D.A.R.E.

“Everyone on that show is beautiful,” the second anonymous source said. “Making beautiful people do drugs makes the drugs look more beautiful.”

The first anonymous source had a similar interpretation of the effect the portrayal of drug usage in “Euphoria” has on teenagers.

“They don’t think it’s bad at all,” the first anonymous source said. “They just think it’s normal — any teen is doing it — at least that’s how ‘Euphoria’ portrays it.”

The third anonymous source further elaborates on the perspective that television shows are not realistic.

Making beautiful people do drugs makes the drugs look more beautiful.”

— Second Anonymous Source

“[Students] have this idea that they’re going to go into high school and do drugs, and they’ll be able to get away with it every day,” they said. “That’s not realistic at all.”

Comparatively, Weber believes television shows that exhibit drug usage are not glamorizing the act, but instead illustrating reality.

“I would say that in many ways, I think ‘Euphoria’ provides a very accurate representation of what substance use can be like for people,” Weber said.

Don McLeese, an associate professor who has developed courses in culture and entertainment media at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa, says that correlation between people watching shows like “Euphoria” and those doing drugs does not necessarily indicate causation.

“If pop culture reflects the fact that kids are having sex before marriage or teenage pregnancy or using drugs, it isn’t necessarily telling you that that’s what you should go out and do,” McLeese said. “It’s describing what is. I mean, part of the power of art is to be able to turn a mirror onto reality to show things the way they are.”

In regards to “Euphoria” specifically, Weber thinks the adverse consequences of drug usage are properly expressed.

“I feel like they showed a lot of the negative impact that substance use had on the characters’ lives,” Weber said. “If you separate the actors and the celebrity from ‘Euphoria,’ and you actually are talking about the character representation in ‘Euphoria,’ I think in some ways it actually does a lot of justice to some of the harms that can come from substance use.”

However, even with the ramifications of drug use shown in “Euphoria,” the fourth anonymous source admits that feeling similar emotions as the television characters feel can compel people to participate in the same coping mechanisms as the characters, even if they are clearly dangerous acts.

“I think if you can relate to the characters, you can almost want to do it because they’re doing it and you feel how they feel, so you think it would help,” they said.

Although opposing points of view exist when it comes to the effects of drug usage in television, people generally believe social media negatively influences users through its depiction of drugs.

A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2018 of roughly 750 people, aged 13 to 17 years old, reported that 97% use a social media platform such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, which exposes many teenagers to drug usage on social media and can influence them to partake in the illegal activities as well.

Brack helps students with their emotional, social and behavioral health needs on a daily basis. She recognizes the strong pull that drug usage on social media has on teenagers.

“I feel like social media and group chatting is such a huge thing,” Brack said. “One person has access to [drugs], and then they’re on a group chat with a group of people that are using or see other pictures of people using on Snapchat or whatever. I just feel like it kind of snowballs.”

Social media and drug usage influence each other in a cyclic fashion. A social media post with a reference to drugs, whether it is posted by a celebrity or an acquaintance, can instantly spark interest in an individual scrolling through the platform. Curiosity can quickly develop into experimentation. Trying out one drug and posting about it keeps the cycle going.

In 2011, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University conducted a study of 2000 people aged 12 to 17. The study disclosed that 75% of the teenagers surveyed stated that observing photos of teens partying with alcohol or marijuana on social media sites influences them to party similarly.

The third anonymous source supports this finding with their own experience.

“Most of what I learned at first was from social media,” they said. “So, I think that had I not been on it as much as I was, then I don’t think I would have been inclined to try it.”

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