Drugs and alcohol have become common themes in today’s pop culture.
From movies to music, from theater to TV, regular references to illicit substances are made. Sometimes the viewer is even unaware of these references, and they enter the audience’s minds subliminally. Approximately $25 billion is spent every year on advertising for alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. TV shows and movies are often also guilty of portraying substance abuse positively with little to no representation of the negative consequences associated with use. As a result, the media sends mixed messages about substance abuse to young adults, and research reveals that these messages may be responsible for up to 30 percent of young adult drug and alcohol abuse.
According to a 2012 survey published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, teen substance abuse often starts as early as age 14. By late adolescence, 78.2 percent of teens admit to having consumed alcohol and 42.5 percent admit to having used drugs. Although the causes of teen substance abuse can vary and sometimes stem from deep-seeded problems in an individual’s life, many experts believe celebrities and pop culture play a significant role in the development of drug and alcohol use. Many television shows geared towards teens and young adults feature a cast of individuals who engage in reckless behavior due to alcohol consumption and drug use. While the intention is to create entertaining television, it leaves many impressionable teens with the wrong idea about substance abuse. Often, these same individuals will receive lenient treatment from the courts when their addiction lands them in trouble, which further promotes the false belief that there are no serious consequences associated with substance abuse. Celebrities are incredibly influential in teens’ lives. There is an increasing number of stories and photos online depicting celebrities engaging in illicit activities, and teens have begun to emulate this behavior, believing it is a normal, everyday activity. The portrayal of substance abuse in celebrity lives diminishes the reality of addiction.
Many movies and TV shows portray drug use as a normal part of young adult life and necessary in order to fit in and be cool. Peer pressure also contributes to the development of substance abuse and is reinforced by images in the media. We are bombarded with images of people having fun and being accepted as they use drugs or alcohol, and many young adults believe they must conform to this behavior in order to achieve similar results. Many movies and TV shows will glamorize substance abuse, and although they may depict individuals eventually getting into trouble, they often allow their characters to wriggle their way out of it and lead a healthy life despite their drug use.
Many movies feature teen parties that glamorize binge drinking and experimentation with drugs in the name of a crazy, memorable adventure, but the reality of the situation is very different. Underage drinking and drug use have dangerous consequences that can put teens in potentially life-threatening situations. In addition, studies show that the earlier an adolescent begins using drugs and alcohol, the more likely he or she is to develop an addiction later in life. Substance abuse early in life can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health, especially because adolescents are still undergoing critical developmental changes.
It is important to educate teens on the differences between the reality of substance abuse and the media’s portrayal of it. Popular media rarely depicts the repercussions of substance abuse, including the negative effects it has on an individual’s health and the increased risk of accidents that occur under the influence. While it is nearly impossible to remove the influence of mainstream media, its influence can be lessened through education.