How Euphoria’s Depiction of Drug Use Can Benefit Our Teens 

Twenty-five-year-old Zendaya is one of the most famous young icons in the world, having rocketed to incredible success as an actress, singer, and model. When we see her portray “Rue,” a high school junior who is struggling with an addiction in the wildly popular HBO series Euphoria, the fear is that young people will look up to and emulate this behavior.  

According to Variety, Euphoria is the second-most watched HBO series of all time (to Game of Thrones).  Euphoria’s setting is in the fictional town of “East Highland,” but the show is filmed throughout Los Angeles and has a distinct feel of the city. Being that California is the national leader in drug overdose fatalities+, the stage is clearly set for this show to have an influence on many ‘at-risk’ individuals.

The Upside of Euphoria’s Depiction of Drug Use

The show, at times, does glamorize Rue’s substance use disorder (SUD), and that’s a concern. Thankfully, Euphoria also portrays how addiction controls Rue’s life, and how she cannot get through simple daily routines without using drugs.

In a flashback, we see how she was discovered by her younger sister after overdosing.  Rue was unconscious and covered in vomit, and the sister is traumatized as a result. It’s good to see the show depict the carnage that teen drug use causes to other family members.  

It’s also encouraging that the show strongly connects Rue’s substance abuse with her desire to cope with her anxiety disorder. Many SUD sufferers are also struggling with a co-occurring disorder like anxiety, depression, or trauma. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 50% of those with a severe mental health disorder are substance abusers. Not only should those who have a mental health diagnosis be aware of the dangers of substance addiction, their loved ones and carers should be aware of this connection.   

It was great to see Rue actively participating in Narcotics Anonymous (NA).  During Season 2, she worked with her sponsor, who helped her see her challenges in a different light. Narcotics Anonymous is an anonymous 12-step support group like Alcoholics Anonymous, and in my 40 years of helping men and women recover, these groups have shown to be hugely supportive to newly sober individuals. 

Euphoria Reduces Stigma 

The best thing that can come out of Rue’s high-profile depiction of substance abuse on Euphoria is that it can break down the walls of stigma that keep so many suffering in silence. It has been a longstanding struggle to reduce the shame and secrecy that surrounds addiction in families. 

People both young and old should know that addiction does not discriminate, and it’s not a moral failing.  Addiction is almost universally accepted by the medical community as a treatable disease, and we are constantly getting better at helping people to overcome it. 

Changes to Euphoria That We’d Like to See

Provide Viewers Help

It would be great if there was a disclaimer at the beginning and end of the show that assured people that help is available, regardless of your age, location, or financial situation. This disclaimer could provide the 800 number for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA).   This government resource catalogs providers in every city and state and the toll-free number is staffed 24/7.

Medication Assisted Treatment MAT

We would love to see Rue get the benefit of medication assisted treatment (MAT). At my treatment center, Confidential Recovery, we have seen so many of our opioid dependent patients succeed by using MAT.  Newly sober individuals get great relief from medications like Suboxone, which reduce discomfort and cravings.  

According to various studies, a combination of MAT and psychosocial treatment (counseling and support groups) can give people an 80% chance of long-term recovery success.  These numbers are much higher than historical addiction treatment success rates, and we are encouraged by the progress our patients show when using MAT. 

Reviving an Overdose with Narcan

It would be great to see Narcan make an appearance on Euphoria. Narcan is the brand name for the drug naloxone, and it’s a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose (depending on its severity). Narcan is a lifesaver, and we’d love to see it used on this wildly popular show, so that the audience will have a better understanding of how it works and what it does. 

More Therapeutic Exposure

Overcoming an addiction in your life is so much easier with the help of professional counselors.  At the start of the first season of Euphoria, Rue had just gotten out of rehab, during which she had maintained abstinence.  It would be great to see her working ‘one-on-one’ with a therapist who was using a treatment modality like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or motivational interviewing.  We’ve helped so many of our clients address the underlying issues that were exacerbating their SUD by using these types of evidence-based practices.     

Getting Help for an SUD

There’s never been a better time than right now to seek help for an SUD. Hope and help are widely available, and there are more tools than ever before to treat addiction.  The best thing to do is to get the help of a professional. As mentioned above, SAMHA is available 24/7 at 800-662-HELP. 

Starting the Conversation with Your Teen

I speak with families daily who are in danger of losing their son or daughter to the overdose epidemic that claims another life every few minutes.  It can be difficult to know what to say, but I can tell you that if you fear that your teen is using opioids, staying silent is not an option. Again, contact a trained drug counselor immediately.  This person will give you suggestions on how to address the problem and get you started toward facing the problem.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been helping men and women recover from addiction for almost 40 years. He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug rehab in San Diego that specializes in helping executives, veterans, and first responders recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

+ National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics

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