Substance abuse stigma

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by Styvalizh Uribe

graphic by Akina Nishi

As celebrities and the media allow the stigma of drugs to seem socially acceptable, it essentially undermines the political campaign, the “war on drugs,” as society neglects the severity of its problem.

Addiction is a chronic and debilitating illness that does not discriminate. According to Inspirationyouth.com, “people who are in the echelons of fame can easily fall prey to addiction,” due to the constant monitoring of the public eye, the pressure to perform and high expectations. Maintaining and projecting an aura of perfection and success can sometimes be difficult to handle. As a result, some stars turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the overwhelming pressure. Once the brain’s metabolism is altered, cravings are created and attitudes are changed. Because drugs provide a temporary relief, the brain make the connection that stress can be relieved by pharmaceutical substances, and the behavior is repeated until body becomes dependent on the medication.

However, as celebrities put harmful substances in their bodies, they glamorize the uses of narcotics, setting an example for supporters worldwide. According to a Barclay Spaces for Sports study, 2,700 people ages 13 to 18 found that 25% of teens were more influenced by celebrities than the people they knew intimately. Media depictions of legal drugs are generally positive and invite no criticism because they are not directly advertising any product. Therefore, young people receive mixed messages about substance use and are more likely to repeat the pattern. The sad and tragic death of the young and talented 26-year-old rapper Mac Miller and many before him is another example of this relationship some celebrities develop with drugs.

The “war on drugs” is a campaign led by the U.S. federal government with the specific aim to reduce the illegal drug trade in the United States. Beginning with President Richard Nixon, declaring drug abuse as a “public enemy” to Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control. However, this political campaign is being devalued by the media’s actions in indirectly promoting drugs.

For example, according to pediatrics.aappublications.org, “Hollywood seems to use smoking as a shorthand to define troubled characters”, yet the irony of the smoking status of the actors themselves is also influential in whether their characters will smoke on-screen. “Smoking is also found in nearly one-fourth of all music videos, one-fourth of ads for R-rated movies and 7.5% of ads for PG-13 and PG movies.” This not only publicizes the wrong argument of the war on drugs but also influences the social stigma of how celebrities showcase the plague of substance abuse problems.

However, some drugs are beneficial and can be used for medical purposes. During the early 1900s, morphine usage was not only legal but also socially acceptable. According to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, “morphine was used during the American Civil War as a surgical anesthetic and was sent home with numerous wounded soldiers for pain relief.” However, several hundred thousand soldiers also went home addicted to morphine at the end of the war.

The social stigma of drugs as disreputable has been emphasized with the celebrity misuse of opioids and barbiturates, and only with education will there be progress in the battle against narcotics. Treatment programs should address general wellness and the prevention of factors that lead to addiction. Teaching youth about the health dangers of specific drugs and the disease of addiction can only help in the prevention of adolescent drug use.

Ultimately, the use of drugs by celebrities and the media’s publicizing only goes to compromise the political power against substance abuse.

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