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Does the Media Sensationalize Substance Use?

The media is a powerful outlet. It is where people turn for news and entertainment. Everywhere you look there are advertisements, commercials, articles, social media posts, and other content. They are on television, the radio, the Internet, newspapers, movies, magazines, and more. But when it comes to substance use, is the media helping or hurting recovery efforts?

One of the prime focuses of the media is celebrities. People like to know what is going on in the lives of actors, musicians, athletes, government officials, and television personalities. However, this puts these people even more in the spotlight. Their every move is watched and recorded. Shock value sells, so stories of scandal, failure, and heartache run rampant. Media sources are quick to report on a celebrity that is arrested for DUI or struggles with substance misuse. These stories make the front page. But what message is that sending to the public?

  • It focuses on the negatives of substance use, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Stories share how drugs and alcohol have taken a toll on the person’s life and career, but they don’t often go much further than that. The media tends to focus on the negatives and not give as much emphasis to those in recovery and how they’ve turned their life around for the better.
  • It emphasizes relapse. How often do you see headlines about this person or that person entering recovery for the second, third, fourth time? The media can make it seem that relapse is a normal part of recovery and is to be expected, when in reality there are many people who enter into long-term sobriety and do not relapse.
  • It puts more stress on celebrities. They know that anything they say or do will be broadcast to and criticized by the public, so they may work even harder to hide their problems. This could end up exacerbating substance misuse issues. And even those who are not celebrities may get highlighted by the local news for events related to their substance use.

Substance Use in Televisions and Movies

Television and movies are another source of media. When characters celebrate or go out to have a good time, there is usually drinking involved. The same goes for when they are dealing with challenging or stressful situations. They may turn to alcohol as a source of relief and self-medication. Smoking makes actors look “cool” on the big screen and children and adolescents may get the wrong idea. They see some of their favorite icons smoking, drinking, or doing drugs, and the negative consequences are not often exemplified in shows and movies. Teenagers may be more apt to experiment with substance use because of how it is portrayed in movies and television shows.

Celebrating Success

Not all media exposure is negative, however. There are stories of success. Celebrities who have gone through drug and alcohol treatment at a Los Angeles rehab center and maintained their sobriety. Some celebrities use the media as a way to share their stories with others. Kristen Johnson, Drew Barrymore, and Robert Downey Jr. are just a few examples. They have been vocal about their struggles with drugs and alcohol but also how they have turned their lives around. They have gone on to continue to be successful in their professional and personal lives and entered into long-term recovery.

The media can be used as a positive resource for breaking down stigmas, promoting recovery, and preventing substance misuse. It can be used to educate and engage the public so that they can be more proactive and get help if needed. More influential people are speaking up and out about addiction and recovery. They are sharing their stories and showing that change is possible. That there is nothing to be ashamed of and there is hope.

Igniting Change

Society needs to join together as a whole to create an environment that is more supportive of recovery. Those who struggle with addiction are normal people like everyone else. They have families and jobs. They are business professionals, students, parents, neighbors, politicians, actors, family members, and friends. Overcoming addiction is a challenging journey but having a strong network of support can make it easier. Clients still need jobs and places to live after treatment. They still have responsibilities. Addiction is not who they are and should not define them. They have the ability to be successful and live fulfilling lives.

So while the media may sensationalize the negatives of addiction, it can also be used to promote recovery and prevention as well. It all depends on how it is used.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact Chapters Capistrano at 949-371-4198. Chapters Capistrano is an executive rehab center in California that offers on-site detox, flexible approaches to therapy, family programs, and relapse prevention planning to support clients in starting a new chapter in their lives.