Drug taking is a topic which seems to be featured in many Hollywood films. On and offscreen, drugs have always seemed to be a large part of the showbiz world, a world that many ordinary people aspire to be part of. In this article, we will be taking a look at how drug abuse is portrayed in films, and how this can affect the general public’s view on drug-taking.
How Drug Abuse is Portrayed
According to the Uses and Gratifications Theory of Bulmer and Katz, people consume media to fulfil certain desires. One of those desires is the need to find our own personal identity through observing other people. This is because the need to fit in is basic human instinct, which is why so many people follow and copy the most popular trends. In the same way, when audiences see rich and popular characters or the actors themselves using drugs, they may begin to associate drugs with success and begin to normalise it.
Films such as The Wolf of Wall Street demonstrate this. Based on a true story, the main character Jordan Belfort, works his way up from a low-paid job in sales to becoming The Wolf of Wall Street. Once he has reached his success, he brags about expensive cars, yachts, the most beautiful girlfriend and most of all, lots of drugs. Although Belfort experiences a seizure as a result of an overdose, the scene is intended to be funny as he crawls along the floor with a humorous narration.
This detracts from the harsh reality of overdoses and drug abuse, that involves anxiety, mood swings, sleep deprivation and seizures that can be fatal, not to mention the adverse effects it can have on people’s families, friends and careers. It appears the more drugs Belfort takes, the more successful he becomes, a dangerous message to send to the audience.
However, when films do attempt to portray drug-taking/addiction in a negative light, showing the reality of addiction and the harmful consequences that come with it, the audience’s perception and attitudes can be changed. In 2000, Requiem for a Dream was praised for its “agonising and unflinchingly grim portrayal of drug use.” The film focuses on the mental states of those with drug addictions and how the addiction completely engulfs them until they are almost unrecognisable.
Similarly, in 1996 Trainspotting hit the big screen. The film represented the brutal side effects of going ‘cold turkey’ and the dark side of the comedown. The Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom claimed that the film Trainspotting did “more to warn people about the dangers of drugs than government health notices and the average professor standing up and talking about it.”
The Effects on Younger People
Perhaps one of the most dangerous effects of Hollywood’s glamorisation is on teenagers and young adults who are still in the process of forming their identities. During this time in their lives, they are more likely to experiment and behave in ways that are based on their observations of the world. When developing who they are, they look to their peers as well as television, films and music.
Unfortunately, if attractive characters in TV and film are drinking, smoking or taking drugs, young people are more likely to imitate this behaviour, despite logic telling them otherwise. Hollywood’s normalisation of drug abuse gives young people the impression that this is what they should be doing.
Euphoria is a television series that focuses on a group of high school students as they deal with the issues of drugs, sex and violence. There are many mixed reviews of this programme, as whilst it does focus on the negative effects of a drug addiction such as anxiety, mood swings and depression, it also represents the feeling of being high.
One of the bigger concerns about this show is the way in which it teaches young people methods of beating a urine drug test in a step-by-step tutorial. Such detailed information wasn’t crucial to the plot of the show and raises concerns about young people going to extreme lengths to conceal dangerous behaviours from trusted adults.
The Parents Television Council said: “What HBO is doing with this show is taking the most extreme conduct that a teenager can experience and normalising it. The content that children consume impacts their views and their behaviours. They are influenced — their conduct, values, and beliefs about society are shaped by what they consume in entertainment.”
On the other hand, some people defend the show, saying they would rather their teenagers see this and its negative effects than going out to experience it themselves. Others believe that somewhat normalising this type of behaviour makes those who are currently going through it feel less alone and able to start a conversation about what they’re struggling with.
When the Cameras Stop Rolling
Not only are there concerns about Hollywood glamourising drug abuse on the big screen, but off screen too, as the celebrity lifestyle revolves around partying, drugs and risky behaviour. For many celebrities, drugs and alcohol are used as vices to cope with the pressure and judgement that comes with constantly being under the spotlight.
Unfortunately, many people (teenagers in particular), look up to celebrities and idolise them and their behaviour, particularly as it is associated with success. Demi Lovato is one celebrity that has struggled with a drug and alcohol addiction for many years.
In December 2013, she revealed the true extent of her addiction in an interview with Access Hollywood, claiming she would receive drugs from others in the industry, sneak drugs onto airplanes and use cocaine every thirty minutes. Having entered rehab on a number of occasions during her late teens, and once again following a relapse in 2018, Lovato calls for Hollywood to stop glamorising drugs, saying:
“I wish more people would lose the stigma and treat addiction as the deadly and serious DISEASE that it is. Drugs are not something to glamorise in pop music or film to portray as harmless recreational fun.”
Although drug and alcohol use is often glamorised by the entertainment industry, it doesn’t mean you must use them in your own life. It is important to educate yourself on the dangers of substance abuse and acknowledge your own influence on others whenever you post to social media.
If you are concerned that either yourself or a loved one are exhibiting addictive habits when it comes to drugs or alcohol, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Acquiesce team for a free consultation or to find out more about our programmes.