The portrayal of addiction and substance abuse on the big screen has taken many forms since the 1970s. From being a punch line, glamorized and appearing over the top in movies such as “The Wolf of Wall Street,” to a loud string quartet backdrop playing over some of the most graphic and visceral images of addiction in “Requiem for a Dream.” However, these two films portray addiction at its extremes.
Addiction, no matter the form it takes, is a complex disease of the brain “that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences,” according to the American Psychiatric Association. Approximately 21 million Americans have an addiction, according to data gathered from Addiction Center, a service that provides information on drug rehabilitation centers.
Despite the vast nature of the addiction epidemic, the root of the problem tends to be misconstrued.
It’s crucial to raise awareness that addiction is not a choice but a disease of the brain. Some may believe that addicts can stop at their own will. However, people who experience addiction need more than just self-reliance to get clean.
Recognizing that changes in the brain and external factors are partially responsible for addiction is the first step toward eliminating this idea of it being a choice rather than a disease.
That is where HBO’s original series, “Euphoria,” comes in. It’s easier to stomach than the film “Requiem for a Dream” and, while some have argued that it glamorizes teenage sex and drug use, it provides a glimpse into the reality of what it’s like to either be an addict or in love with someone who is struggling with addiction.
“Euphoria” fans rejoiced when showrunners announced two special episodes airing in December and January, though they warned that “this is not season 2.”
In the show’s latest episode, which aired on Dec. 6, the storyline follows Rue’s addiction as she relapses again and lies about being high, while her eyes glaze over during her ramblings. Her feelings for her love interest Jules are conflicted as she is distressed over being abandoned by someone she loves unconditionally.
One could argue that Rue decided to traipse into opioids and drown her sorrows into a different plane of reality. But, that’s the ignorant approach to addiction and fails to take into account external factors. The misconceptions people have of addiction fail to recognize the role of the human brain.
According to the American Addiction Centers and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teenagers and adults with mental health disorders are at greater risk for drug use and addiction. Many seek to self-medicate with substances, which becomes a slippery slope that is no longer black or white.
Rue’s portrayal of addiction is honest and raw and not the miraculous recovery people might expect. She is forced into rehab after an overdose, and immediately after leaving, she relapses. Since rehab wasn’t her choice and staying clean wasn’t her priority, she could not recuperate. This goes back to the basics of addiction: an addict who doesn’t want to get better, won’t.
In Rue’s case, her addiction is deeply rooted in her mental illnesses; she suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and anxiety which, at a young age, starts her long train of prescribed medications.
Ultimately, the stigma of addiction is still ever present in the form of blame. Some people blame the addict and think they’re actively making the choice to take a substance or another drink. Even though it’s been proven that addiction is a complex disease, many from the healthcare sector and the majority of the population hold a stigma against addicts as being weak, according to a study published with the National Institutes of Health.
Despite these perceptions, the true cause behind addiction can’t be chalked up to just one thing, but rather, it’s due to multiple external factors that aren’t always in one’s control.
Viewers witness how Rue’s addiction and mental illnesses feed into each other. She’s on top of the world and in love one minute, but once Jules is gone, her crutch and codependency of relying on someone’s love and affection to keep her sober gives out.
If there’s anything to learn from “Euphoria’s” depiction of addiction, it’s that the need to be sober and clean will only come when the addict is ready. No amount of pressure or ultimatums will be able to sustain sobriety for long periods of time. Addicts who don’t want to get better simply won’t. It’s impossible to force someone to quit abusing substances.
In order to overcome the stigma of addiction and treat it as the brain disorder that it is, having an open and informed discussion is a momentous step in the right direction.
If you or someone you know is facing addiction, the services below are available 24/7:
American Addiction Centers Alcohol and Drug Addiction Hotline: 1 (866) 959-1570
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1 (800) 662-4357
Addiction Center Treatment Services Hotline: 1 (844) 910-1186