There’s nothing quite like a classic coming of age drama. Popular shows like “One Tree Hill” and “Gossip Girl” have shaped the tween-age years of myself and many others, and remain infamous to this day.
These shows, as iconic as they are, also are full of happy endings, unrealistic expectations, and portray a false sense of what it is to truly come of age. Our society was in dire need of a hard hitting show with a bit more contemptuous of a plot line. Now TV script writer Sam Levinson absolutely pushed modern day televisions boundaries with the creation of America’s new favorite on-demand phenomenon.
“Euphoria” tells the painfully detailed tale of a young drug addict named Rue who has no desire to get clean, despite her multiple attempts. The audience witnesses her lose herself and her character; as the series progresses she starts to lose her likeability. She prioritizes her relationship with drugs over her loved ones, schoolwork and any shot at a successful future that steers clear of addiction. This is the classic timeline of a drug addict, creating a realm so close to reality the accuracy is uncanny.
The cultural perception of addiction in America is that of the association of addicts with criminality, homelessness and a severe lack of morality. Addiction is rarely ever seen for what it truly is, a disease; a dangerous one at that, especially in the lives of the teenage population.
“Euphoria” pushes societal boundaries by portraying scenes of overdoses, drug abuse, drug-related violence and more. You begin to love Rue despite her toxic tendencies and continue to root for her even though you know she won’t get clean. You grow a relationship with Rue’s drug dealer, her main enabler. You root for them, as sick as it sounds.
In 2019, there were 4,777 overdoses among adolescents of the ages 15-22. That statistic is not something that is shown in your everyday coming of age TV drama. In fact, that statistic is rarely ever represented in the media at all. In addition, one in three teenagers admitted to regularly abusing non-prescribed over the counter medication.
Tales of addiction are usually displayed through criminal documentaries, news stories about a local kid gone bad, or shows and movies that paint addicts in the most negative light possible. It’s no surprise that addiction isn’t a positive trait, but this just fuels the stereotype that lies around all addicts in our society today. Not all addicts are immoral junkies who steal and commit crimes due to their addiction. In fact, many addicts are just trying to make it out of every day alive just like you and I.
So, how does one go about destigmatizing and humanizing the act of addiction? It certainly can’t be done with the sole work of one successful TV show, but it’s definitely a start. For millennials and Gen-Z, creating a targeted insight-driven marketing campaign using social media channels might be beneficial. For older generations, the message may be delivered through various media channels ready to showcase human interest tales of people struggling with substance abuse and addiction in order to humanize the disease. Moreover, scientific education on the nature of addiction should be interlaced with these initiatives in terms of understanding and the de-stigmatization of this condition.
Next time before you make a biased assumption about someone because they are a substance abuser, remember they are a real person with real emotions that is probably struggling with the disease that you’re judging them for.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with addiction. If you or someone you know are suffering from this disease, you can reach out to the 24 hour Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889.