“Euphoria” doesn’t romanticize substance abuse, it explains it

Ashley Mata, Staff Writer

Trigger warning: article contains mentions of self-harm as well as drug and alcohol abuse. 

The first episode in season two of the critically-acclaimed “Euphoria” hit HBO Max on Jan. 9, and new episodes have been released every Sunday since. The new season sparks discussion surrounding alcohol and drug abuse, begging the question: is “Euphoria” a dangerously romanticized series that makes drug abuse appealing, or does it have more to offer?

It’s true that characters in “Euphoria” are attractive and dress how many teenagers and young adults aspire to dress. It’s true that scenes depicting drug and alcohol abuse are edited, colored and shot beautifully. For example: a montage depicts Rue (Zendaya) drinking and using drugs at a party as a spotlight focused on her causes everyone else to fade into the background. The scene flashes and cuts quickly as the camera focuses on her glittering, dazed face while soft blues and grays overtake the background. 

However, it is also true that the characters in “Euphoria” face the repercussions of their actions. They experience the ups and downs of their choices. They do not get everything they want.

While some have criticized “Euphoria” for its potential to poorly influence younger viewers, I think the writers have a more complex message in mind. 

When viewers look beyond the series’ beautiful cinematography, intelligent framing and perfect song sequences, they see that each character has reasons for their behavior that are partially beyond their control. Rather than glorifying substance abuse, “Euphoria” shows the harmful effects of unresolved trauma.

According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, about 70% of Americans experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. Trauma is an emotional response to a greatly distressing or disturbing experience. 

While Nate, the series’ antagonist, is violent, manipulative and abusive, he also learned as a child that his father is an adulterer who takes part in illegal acts that sometimes involve minors. Jules, who participates in self-harm as well as alcohol and drug abuse, was placed in a psychiatric hospital at a young age as an attempt to suppress her feelings of wanting to transition to presenting as female. 

One of the main themes from “Euphoria” is that casualties ride the wake of our decisions. Our actions have the potential to wound those around us, as shown through Rue’s mother and sister’s fears that they will lose Rue just like they lost her father. 

While some think “Euphoria” merely dramaticizes teen behavior, I’d argue that it shows how the lives we live as young people are complex, confusing and full of hardship. Rather than glorifying these difficulties, “Euphoria” explores the paths that put characters in difficult positions in the first place.

“Euphoria” shows that young adults make choices they will probably regret but inevitably learn from and maybe even heal from, too.

Westmont is a Christian college, but we shouldn’t mistake that to mean that all its students are happy, or even okay. Just because we live tucked away in the hills of Montecito doesn’t mean we’re removed from the realities of trauma and substance abuse. To pretend we do would be self-righteous and damaging to our community. 

Instead of condemning “Euphoria,” Westmont community members can learn from it. As a Christian community, we need to be open to difficult conversations and to extend love to everyone, no matter the trauma they’ve inherited or choices they’ve made. 

For help regarding mental health and substance abuse, contact Counseling and Psychological Services or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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