‘Euphoria’ sparks conversations around addiction

Zendaya in a scene from Season 2 of “Euphoria,” which was filmed in Los Angeles. Credit: Courtesy of Eddy Chen/HBO/TNS

HBO Max’s “Euphoria,” though known in part for its cinematography, soundtrack and makeup looks, also covers topics that are much more serious.

The American drama follows Rue Bennett (Zendaya), a high school teen, and her struggles with substance use, as well as her circle of acquaintances as they navigate their own lives, according to the Warner Bros. website.

Ahmed Hosni, assistant director in the Student Wellness Center at Ohio State, said the way “Euphoria” portrays substance use is a good start to a larger conversation, but it is also important to remember that the action on screen is fictional.

“I think that the way that ‘Euphoria’ is illuminating just the pervasiveness of substance use disorder, the interaction of substance abuse and mental health disorders and trauma and how those three things oftentimes go hand in hand is an important narrative,” Hosni, who mentioned he is in long-term recovery himself, said.

Ali Alkhalifa, a fourth-year in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said he doesn’t think the show glamorizes drugs like many people and organizations — including anti-drug organization Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE — believe it does, but rather shows an apt representation.

“I think the show does an amazing job at showing the really ugly nature of this disease and kind of destigmatizing the conversations around drugs that programs like DARE have perpetuated,” Alkhalifa said. “You know, we’re having this conversation because of the show. I think the show basically goes about every way of telling you not to do drugs without saying, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”

Alkhalifa said the show is especially appealing to college audiences because the themes are still relevant to the age group, despite them having left high school. The aesthetics of the filming and the music on the show also play into the show’s popularity, he said.

“We almost get taken out of that critical position because it just sounds and looks so pretty sometimes, but I think that’s intentionally a way to contrast how ugly addiction can be,” Alkhalifa said. “We have this beautiful music, this beautiful lighting, but it’s kind of, like, showing us the facade that we’re putting up.”

Hosni said he thinks substance use is glamorized partly due to the way society heavily advertises and promotes alcohol, which he said is the drug most often misused on the market.

“The idea of ​​vilifying people who use other substances while we celebrate alcohol use is counterintuitive,” Hosni said. “Both approaches are extremely dangerous and are giving mixed signals to kids and young people everywhere.”

Hosni said the media’s accurate portrayal of substance use is important because the public forms opinions on addiction partly through media representations. He said media can also inspire people to look into resources for those who are struggling with addiction.

The Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State offers naloxone kits, or Narcan, a medication designed to reverse the effects of a narcotic overdose, at its hospital pharmacy locations. Those who pick up a kit can also receive training to learn how to use it, according to the medical center’s website.

“Any student who has been watching ‘Euphoria’ and is interested in carrying Narcan kits so that they could possibly save somebody else’s life, if they ever come across someone who is unresponsive, can go to the Student Health Center pharmacy and pick up a kit free of charge,” Hosni said.

Hosni said the most common misconception about those with substance use disorders is that it only happens to flawed people, but this is not the case. He said perpetuating that idea is only harmful to those who are trying to recover and deal with the shame that often accompanies addiction.

“Normalizing the idea that this could happen to anyone and that just because a person develops a substance use disorder and struggles with a substance use disorder, that doesn’t mean they are any less deserving of our love, compassion and care,” Hosni said . “And that is actually how we’re going to help them get better.”


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