Op-Ed: Normalising drug use in pop culture encourages teens to risk their own health

YP reader Chris Nam
  • Films such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and the overdose deaths of celebrities like Juice WRLD expose young people to substance abuse
  • A staggering half of all US teenagers have misused drugs at least once
YP reader Chris Nam |

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If young people are exposed to a culture of substance abuse, many will be curious to find out what it's all about.

Substance abuse has long played a major role in shaping modern entertainment. From being referenced in the music of influential artists such as The Beatles or Snoop Dogg, to acting as the driving plot device of movies such as Trainspotting (1996) or The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), it is clear that drugs have made a mark on modern-day pop culture.

Constant exposure like this helps to normalise drug use in entertainment culture. As a result, both illegal drugs and prescription drugs prone to abuse have become increasingly prevalent in the entertainment industry. The consequences can be seen in the number of deaths in the community.

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Some notable names who have fallen victim to drug overdoses include actor Cory Monteith of Glee, Heath Ledger (of The Dark Knight fame), and, more recently, Jarad Anthony Higgins, better known as rapper Juice WRLD, who died of an oxycodone-induced seizure last December.

What’s more concerning is the fact that the media in which drug abuse is reflected is so widely accessible to the general public. Even the youngest of children have no problems accessing the internet, with the US National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES) reporting that 94 per cent of children aged three to 18 have access to the internet at home.

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With drugs being such an integral aspect of popular culture, it is inevitable that children will be exposed to them. Having had it normalised for their entire lives, it’s not unsurprising that many decide to try them. After all, if your favourite rapper does it, how bad can it be for you?

As the US National Centre of Drug Abuse Statistics reports, a staggering 50 per cent of US teenagers have misused a drug at least once in their lives. Normalised drug culture and the media have definitely played a part.

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The measures the media industry have undertaken to prevent minors from having access to explicit content meant for adults, such as age checkers, are all considerably easy to bypass, so content meant for adults is often easily accessed by children. It’s quite easy to argue that the media needs to do more.

Ultimately, unless cultural influencers decide that their lifestyle is harmful to society and radically change their behaviour, young minds – lacking the rational judgement that comes with maturity – will continue to be exposed to this damaging culture.

However, one pressing question still remains: how much damage will drugs do before concrete action is taken?