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Does California-based TV show Euphoria glamorize teen drug use?

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Have you heard of the TV show Euphoria? It’s the most-tweeted-about TV show of the decade in the U.S. (1) according to Twitter. So if you haven’t, chances are your kids have - and they could be watching it.

Why is this an issue? Well, for a start, the show depicts teenagers abusing drugs from marijuana to opioids, as well as casual sex in dangerous hookups with strangers.

It’s even more relevant for families in California who have teenagers, as that is where the show is based. Should we be worried that the show is an accurate depiction of teenage drug use in the state? Or if not, does the show glamorize drug abuse and encourage these behaviors in our teens?

Why we should be concerned

Before each episode, there is a content warning for “violence, nudity and sexual content that may be disturbing to viewers”. This in and of itself is a demonstration of the show’s content. And while the creators reiterate that it is for mature audiences, surely a shocking, salacious show involving teenagers is going to attract a teen audience.

Not only is its content appealing, but ads for the show are all over social media. Visual and audio clips from the series have gone viral on TikTok - as well as the show advertising through social media channels. Kids spend a lot of time on these platforms - and are influenced by the content on them.

Here’s a taster of its content, if you haven’t already read about it. Rue is a teenage drug addict - who is the protagonist and the narrator. The audience watches Rue slowly ruin her life by lying to the loved ones around her and acting out, doing everything she can to maintain her drug addiction.

Fentanyl use in the show

In season one of Euphoria, the main character, Rue, takes fentanyl, a powerful opioid.

You’ve likely read about this drug in the news. Data that was released at the end of last year (2) by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the dangers of illegally manufactured fentanyl, which can be 50 times more potent than heroin (3).

More worryingly, drug overdose deaths among high school-aged US teens have more than doubled since 2019, driven by a rise in this drug, a new study has found. (4)

But just because a character in the show is abusing this drug, does it mean the show is endorsing or glamorizing taking it?

Controversy and criticism

So as you can imagine, the show has been no stranger to controversy and criticism for its graphic portrayal of adolescent drug usage.

D.A.R.E.—the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program—criticized the show for “glorify[ing]” high school drug use (5).

In a statement to TMZ, a D.A.R.E. rep commented:

"Rather than further each parent’s desire to keep their children safe from the potentially horrific consequences of drug abuse and other high-risk behavior, HBO’s television drama, Euphoria, chooses to misguidedly glorify and erroneously depict high school student drug use, addiction, anonymous sex, violence, and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world."

The show’s framing and context

So we know now that this Southern California-based show does portray teenage drug use. But is condemning this too simple a view to take?

Rue, the main character, is not happy-go-lucky, nor is she shown having a fun time when using drugs. If anything, in the scene where she takes fentanyl for the first time - she is very much coerced into doing so. The scene is tense - and it is pretty horrifying when Rue passes out and cannot be roused. It is in fact, hard to imagine any teen viewer watching this and then wanting to take this drug.

Overall, this is the tone of the drug use in the show. Most of the young characters’ lives are traumatic and chaotic - and despite the show depicting narcotic use - it is certainly not advocating it. If anything, it can be seen as a cautionary tale to teen audiences.

The reality of teen life

You may find it comforting to know that statistically speaking, teens now have sex less, do drugs less, try alcohol later (6), and go out less than any other teens in decades. This is quite a different story from the one that is told on the show.

Gen Z has a different set of challenges than others before it - being the digital and social media generation. And perhaps we should worry more about the impact of that on their mental health and behavior, than one unrealistic show?

Sadly, there are studies that show (7) that Gen Z are the most stressed and depressed generation for years. And Euphoria does depict this well. The show also has helpline numbers at the end of the show relevant to themes in that episode. So we can at least hope that kids watching, feel that they can reach out for support if they need to.

What does this mean for my teen?

We’ve taken a look at the series, the facts, and real-life teens. But these can only show us a window view into teen behavior as a whole. What about your teenager at home?

We need to acknowledge that just because the stats show us that teenagers are drinking less, taking fewer drugs, and going out less, doesn’t mean our own child isn’t doing these things.

We also need to consider that these studies rely on adolescents admitting to drug use and casual sex. Even in anonymized research, kids could be lying for fear of being found out.

As reassuring as it may be to hear that Gen Z is more responsible, it doesn’t remove the real-life effects of problematic teenage behavior from your life. And it doesn’t make your experience any less real if this is happening in your home.

What options for help are available?

Another criticism of the show is that throughout Rue’s drug addiction, they only show two treatment options during series one and two. In series one, it’s rehab - and in series two, it’s Narcotics Anonymous.

Where are all the other treatment options available to teenagers and their families to help them recover - and not relapse - from substance addiction?

What about in-home options, virtual options - and a service that supports the parents and family as a whole? That’s where we can help. Take a look at our services page to hear more about our holistic approach to helping your family through your teens’ problems.



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