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Drugs, the Media, and Your Teenage Daughter

media influence on drug use

Research has told us time again that many young women drink and use drugs in efforts to fit in, to be cool, or to lose weight. Starting in their adolescence, many girls develop this belief that substance use is their express ticket to the “in” crowd or a short-cut to slim down. Yet many girls and young women today do not consider the long-term consequences that may also come along for the ride. They ignore the reality and rather, think that substance use is an “okay” thing to do.

As parents, we often want to blame our kids’ drug abuse on rebellion or acting out, on getting involved with the wrong crowd. Yet perhaps it’s time that we take a step back and look at the larger picture. Where are our daughters getting the message that it is okay to use drugs and drink in the first place?

Oftentimes, it is right in the living room, on a computer or television screen.

Entertainment and the media industry have long-been incorporating drugs and alcohol into their story lines, their lyrics, their marketing and their messages. We’ve seen movies such as The Hangover that glamorize party drugs and binge-drinking, or mainstream radio hits like The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” We habitually get accustomed to these images or messages and forget how much the media factors into the conversation of drugs and alcohol.

According to one study, its influence is quite a lot. 47 percent of teenagers agreed that movies and TV shows make drugs seem like an okay thing to do. And, not surprisingly, the 12- to 17-year-olds who reportedly saw three or more “R” rated movies in a month’s time were six times more likely to use marijuana and five times more likely to drink alcohol than those who hadn’t watched “R” rated films.

Perhaps this is because, in the media, drugs and alcohol are rarely portrayed as unattractive or completely unacceptable. On screen, alcohol is too often associated with success, influence, and popularity. Drug use is portrayed in combination with sex, recreation, parties, and motor vehicle use. On the whole, substance use is directly correlated to relationships, acceptance, power, and happiness.

This is a large part of the problem between women and substance abuse today. Young women are naturally vulnerable to image-related and social-related messages from the media. They are also naturally susceptible to self-esteem issues. As they grow up, many girls and young women struggle with body image. Many are more concerned with being popular than with being healthy and smart. They view drug use as a way to connect with others. They see alcohol as a means to break the ice in new or uncomfortable situations. They see drug use as a means to get skinny and therefore be accepted.

So when they see movies of girls drinking before having sex for the first-time at a party, hear songs about party drugs like Molly making situations more fun, or see magazine advertisements showing skinny women drinking or smoking, the risk for them mirroring these behaviors increases.

An example of the influence of drugs in the media can be related directly back to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. The report found that the reasons why young women use drugs are often tied to social acceptance: 12- and 13-year old girls who smoke do so to be more sexy, slim and attractive; 15- and 16-year olds do so to be trendy; 18- and 19-year-old young women who smoke believe themselves to be more wild, cool, and tough than non-smoking peers.

While there is not yet substantial research done in this area, the same conclusion could be drawn for illicit drug use among young women. As a preeminent drug rehab for women, we often hear many clients say that an underlying cause of their addiction was a persistent effort to get thin. A common example is cocaine use, which alters a young woman’s metabolism and suppresses her appetite, thus encouraging weight loss. What most of these women don’t realize at the time of their drug abuse, however, is that a seemingly positive outcome can actually provoke a major hurdle in the recovery process.

Most times, drugs in the media offer an inaccurate view of drug addiction. Even shows dedicated to drug addiction alone fail to portray a realistic image of it. Take the Emmy-winning show Intervention, for example, which paints a limited picture of drug addicts today – they are the individuals that hit “rock bottom.” They are the ones who get sober through a family intervention. They go to rehab at no cost.

Reality is, any one, of any age, gender, or upbringing, can become addicted. Addiction is a disease that requires evidence-based drug treatment and forever commitment. It takes the support of friends, family, and addiction professionals. So often the entertainment industry forgets this. So often the media glamorizes drug use, gives the wrong picture of drug addiction, and promotes messages that may in fact be convoluting the dangers of drug use for our loved ones.

As a parent, you may not be able to always turn off the media but you can consistently relay preventative messages to your teen. We can help. Call Turnbridge today to learn more about the influence of drugs in the media and how your daughter may fit in.