Culture is both shaped and shaping
One of the criticisms associated with a lot of media that is blamed for being too violent or too sexual is associated with the way it portrays drug use. When we talk about drug use, we might consider alcohol, illicit drugs, and tobacco, which are often portrayed in a variety of contexts, and sometimes, portrayed in more positive, enticing, or appealing ways than the real-life consequences of drugs. Many people have protested these media depictions, but do they have an impact? Let’s take a look at some arguments for and against this and whether media depictions might influence real-life addiction.
For the impact of media:
- Drugs are often portrayed as cool or more harmless than they truly are
Media depictions of drug use are often associated with “fun” and enjoyment. Alcohol, for example, might be shown as something that enables the characters to have fun or lose their inhibitions. Even if it has negative consequences, it might lead the characters into an adventure. Smoking is often a trait given to cool or tough characters. The use of illicit drugs is usually portrayed differently, but something like marijuana is often used for comedic effect or associated with positive characters. Drugs might be portrayed in positive ways and the negative consequences are not shown or downplayed. This can create association for the drugs that are more positive.
- Even negative depictions of drug use can be appealing
However, to counter the above depictions, there have also been many negative portrayals of drugs or the characteristic of drug use is given to villains or antagonists. However, this doesn’t mean that the positive associations are not there. Villains or negative characters can also be perceived as cool or appealing, especially if they have desirable things, like status or money. For example, Scarface from the movie of the same name is often taken to be a cool character despite his flaws and, ultimately, his fate.
- Media impacts real life
It is clear that media has an impact on real life. The portrayals of different things and behaviors in the media does impact what people choose to do. For example, after the release of the 101 dalmatians, more people wanted to have dalmatians as pets. After the release of media reports on publicized suicides, there is a spike in suicide rates. So, it cannot be said that media depictions are harmless because they might impact real-life behaviors. This could happen because they expose individuals to the idea of drug use, because they normalize the idea of using a drug (especially alcohol), and because they might show this behavior as desirable or associated with desirable traits.
Against the impact of media:
- The impact is not absolute
Still, the impact of media depictions is not associated with brainwashing. It impacts some people more than others and it might have no effect on individuals at all. The impact of media might be greater for people who are more vulnerable to the influence in general and especially on those who are younger or lack critical thinking. For example, children could be more vulnerable to the ideas in the media than adults. So, the impact of media is not universal.
- The impact may depend on the portrayal
As mentioned, many portrayals make drugs out to be more fun and enjoyable while not focusing as much on the consequences. Some portrayals may go in the opposite direction and portray drugs as pure evil, which could have the opposite effects. Many PSAs that take this approach are frequently mocked online for their inaccuracy. However, more nuanced and realistic portrayals can be deterrents from drug use. For example, something that shows effectively the consequences of drug abuse and avoids glamorizing it can have a positive impact on real-life substance abuse.
- Drugs are a part of life
Ultimately, media is something that reflects the human experience, and drugs are a part of that experience. Banning depictions of drug use completely is unlikely to be effective and might not have the desired effect. Instead, it would be important to encouraged varied, nuanced, and accurate depictions of drugs, being especially careful in relation to the media aimed at younger audiences.
So, what about drug depictions and addiction? For some people, media might have encouraged their addiction, so it would be best to avoid media portrayals that are too graphic, positive, or appealing, especially for people struggling with rehabilitation. If you or a loved one needs help and would like to explore next steps in the recovery process, please call one of our professionals at Valley Spring Recovery Services. To learn more general information about sober houses or about Valley Spring’s sober living NYC see the hyperlinks. Feel free to read our previous blog about the pros and cons of AA.