I have seen the drug use depicted in the show Euphoria, and, as a parent, it shocked and disturbed me. However, as a family counselor and addiction treatment professional, I can see how Euphoria’s popularity affords us an opportunity to interface with our teens about the greatest killer for adults aged 18 to 45 – accidental overdose.
The controversy centers around Zendaya’s character, “Rue Bennett,” who has a full-blown substance use disorder (SUD). She is shown overdosing, using fentanyl, faking drug tests, and the like. It’s no surprise that D.A.R.E. went on the warpath, releasing a statement that says, “Rather than further each parent’s desire to keep their children safe from drug abuse… Euphoria chooses to glorify high school student drug use, addiction, and other destructive behaviors.” The casting choice alone would seem to be a glorification of drug-using behavior, being that 25 year old Zendaya is one of the hottest young stars in the world. But I would counter that there are some very encouraging things about the storyline which can be educational for most Americans:
- Rue is struggling with several mental health diagnoses: The show is quite explicit that Rue has been diagnosed (and medicated for) general anxiety disorder, ADHD, and it hints at her struggles with depression and bipolar disorder.
- Rue got clean in rehab: The series starts off with her freshly out of a stint in rehab, during which she did abstain from all drugs.
- Rue relapsed after rehab: It’s also useful to note that once she left rehab, without clinical support, she relapsed in short order.
- Rue gets help from the 12-Step program of Narcotics Anonymous: We were pleased to see Rue working with a 12-Step sponsor, who she discusses her daily struggles with. 12-Step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (and Narcotics Anonymous) are an amazing source of support for newly sober individuals.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Drugs
If you are one of the millions of parents in this country who worry about drug abuse in their child’s lives, your fear is warranted. Particularly since the widespread availability of hyper-potent fentanyl, young adults are overdosing in shocking numbers. Euphoria just may be the excuse you need to start the conversation with your impressionable teen.
Here’s some advice you may want to consider:
- Start the Conversation Now
Let me be blunt, the opioid overdose epidemic is several times more deadly than the COVID-19 pandemic. Opioid overdoses single-handedly lowered the life expectancy for people in the United States in 2017 (and that was before COVID-19, and the widespread availability of fentanyl).
Take the difficult step of expressing concern and support to your teen as soon as possible. There isn’t any benefits to delaying the conversation, especially if you suspect your child may be experimenting with drugs. Every use of an opioid is potentially fatal.
- Start by Listening (not Talking)
This part is hard, because you love your kids so much and you have so much to say. But, if possible, try to open the door to the conversation and then listen to what they have to say. You will be perceived as more of an ally and less of an oppressor this way, and they will be more likely to ask you for help if they need it.
- Leave the Judgement at the Door
Peer pressure is overwhelming. If your child is experimenting with substances, they are doing what millions of other kids their ages are doing. Remember, that our society is predisposed to taking drugs to fix our problems. Think of how Rue spent her formative years being given medication that changed the way she felt to cope with her anxiety and ADHD. Is it any surprise she continued trying to cope with her feelings by using illicit drugs? In some way, everyone who uses drugs does so to cope with the stress of their lives.
Also, remember that addiction is a chronic and progressive disease, not a choice. This is a categorization that the medical community has universally embraced in recent decades, but I find it is difficult for many parents to grasp. You wouldn’t yell at your teen if they developed diabetes or hypertension.
- Get Professional Help
It’s not easy to start the conversation, but this is where family and drug counselors can be invaluable. Especially if you suspect your child may be experimenting with drugs, I recommend reaching out to a family therapist or drug counselor to get a game plan going. One thing that parents are surprised by is how universal this problem is, and how predictable teens behave in their responses to being confronted. If you have a family or drug counselor on your side, you will potentially avoid pitfalls like alienating your teen, or worse, enabling their drug use.
Help and Hope are Available
I talk to a lot of parents, and they always love to hear is that help is widely available, and there are plenty of reasons to have hope. We have more tools at our disposal to treat addiction than ever before. Recovery rates are at an all-time high. If you need to talk to someone now, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-662-HELP (4357). This government resource catalogs providers in every city and state. They also have a toll-free number that is staffed 24/7.
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman has been fighting against addiction for almost 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic and the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient rehab in San Diego.