There has been plenty of conversation regarding Euphoria and its portrayal of addiction. Some, like the anti-drug education program D.A.R.E., believe the show is glorifying drug use, while others believe it’s doing a service by portraying the realities of what it’s like to be and deal with somebody who has an addiction. For some viewers, the HBO show’s protagonist Rue Bennett’s substance abuse storyline is also exposing them to a world that may have been foreign to them until now. Zendaya’s portrayal of a 17-year-old battling a drug addiction was so compelling that she made history as the youngest woman to win Best Actress in a Drama Series at the Emmys. In Season 2, viewers watched Rue relapse, consuming everything from opiates to heroin to fentanyl, and manage to put her life in danger on more than one occasion. The show’s critics believe the R-rated series isn’t setting a good example for younger viewers, but people who have been in Rue’s shoes, doctors who treat patients like Rue, and people whose loved ones struggle with addiction, disagree. There is plenty that the drama is getting right about addiction and recovery, but since millions of people have gravitated to the show and its characters in just two seasons, the writers and creators now have an even wider responsibility of making sure to also right the show’s many wrongs.
Former pro BMX racer Tony Hoffman saw his dreams of one day competing in the Olympics come crashing down when he started battling a drug addiction in his teenage years. After being homeless and serving time in prison, Hoffman turned his life around and is now in long-term recovery; he attended the 2016 Rio Olympic Games as a coach and is also a substance abuse speaker creating awareness around the country about the dangers of prescription pill and heroin abuse. As someone who knows the lows of addiction, he doesn’t agree with critics who say the show makes drugs alluring or “cool.” He believes there might be some viewers who are already predisposed to using drugs who are looking to relate because of their own circumstances. Rue’s journey with addiction started when she was just 13 years old while her father was battling cancer. She had access to his medication, and to cope with her dad’s deteriorating health, her own anxiety and mental health disorders, she started stealing his medication. Hoffman believes that seeing a character stealing prescription pills from their parents isn’t immediately going to inspire viewers to do the same. “We can show that to 1,000 kids, the majority aren’t going to. The ones that do are already hurt, they are looking for something to help them get there,” Hoffman tells Complex. “When you look at it from a psychological standpoint, individuals are looking to make connections. We typically make connections with people, places, and things we feel understand us. If we’re going through trauma, and we turn on a show like Euphoria and we see an individual who is experiencing trauma, we instantly relate to that person.
“Through that relatability, we then see how they cope with that experience,” he adds. “It’s not so much about its ‘coolness,’ but through what psychologists would call a ‘trauma bond.’ You find yourself engaging in similar activities because that’s what you relate to the most.” Some medical professionals also don’t believe TV shows or movies have enough impact to drive people to use drugs.