How Drug Use in the Media Affects Teens

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How Drug Use in the Media Affects Teens

In today’s pop culture, drugs and alcohol have become common themes in all types of media including music, movies, television, and even theater. There are constant references to illicit substances in the U.S. and even social media content which is now a huge influence in people’s lives can also include messages about drugs. For young people growing up in this culture, it can be hard to avoid learning about drugs and their effects.

Unfortunately, not all references to drugs also discuss the negative consequences of issues like addiction and the dangers associated with overdose. Even though there are also anti-drug advertisements marketed toward young teens, the mixed messages children receive in the media can make it confusing and difficult for them to understand the reality of drug abuse. Teens are now using drugs at younger ages than ever before and experts believe that the media can play a significant role in the development of drug abuse in a minor.

Pop Culture and Positive Portrayals of Drugs
Drugs can be very commonplace in movies and television and even in the lyrics of popular songs. The media is often guilty of portraying substance abuse positively in many cases with a lack of representation of the downside of drugs.

Research has revealed that some of these messages may be responsible for up to 30 percent of young adult drug and alcohol abuse. Teen substance abuse can start as early as age 14 for many young people and by late adolescence, about 42.5 percent of teens admit to having used illicit drugs.

The causes of addiction and substance abuse are usually complex and depend a lot on a person’s genetics, environment, and state of mental health. However, the media can play a role in a teen’s understanding of drug use and their image of what it means to use drugs.

Many movies and television shows that are geared toward teens show people engaging in reckless behavior due to substance abuse without experiencing much in terms of consequences for their actions. Celebrities can also influence teens and many are known for their regular substance abuse. Teens may begin to believe that illicit drug use is normal, everyday behavior, and not part of the cycle of addiction.

High Frequency of Drugs in the Media
Scenes showing illicit drug use are much more common in movies than in television with one study showing 22 percent of movies containing a drug scene. More than half the time no harmful consequences were shown in these drug scenes.

Marijuana is the most frequent drug to be seen in movies, especially in recent comedies. Humor, however, tends to undermine normal adolescent defenses against drugs and legitimizes their use. Alcohol use is extremely common on television with an average of 1 drinking scene shown every 22 minutes. In popular music, the average teenager is exposed to nearly 85 drug references a day.

This constant exposure to the idea of substance abuse can influence teens to develop a more relaxed attitude about drug use which seems commonplace in the media. Social networking sites are a new problematic opportunity for exposure to drug use. Teens can see a considerable amount of drug and alcohol use in online videos and on social network sites with 40 percent of profiles referencing substance abuse.

Although teen drug use has been a problem for decades, the media has only recently been recognized as a possible contributor to substance abuse. With high levels of advertising for some legal drugs and frequent positive portrayal of drug use in television and movies, it is not surprising that teens are tempted early on in their lives to experiment with drugs. Although other factors are certainly an issue, the media can have a powerful influence on young people and their views on drug use.