Addiction in Pop Culture

How the Media Glamorizes Addiction

Providing help to young addicts and support to their families is challenging enough, but the mentors at Adult & Teen Challenge often find themselves up against a pop culture zeitgeist that glamorizes and romanticizes addiction, alcoholism, and substance abuse. With how much the media now surrounds us and how easy it is to access for everyone, getting good teen help for addictions issues is harder than ever. 

Movies and TV

Since their invention, movies and TV have been used as a platform for advertisement, and countless movies and shows are loaded with product placement. While many people might mock some of the more obvious product placements, there’s no doubt they work, especially since this long-standing tradition still goes on.

But, can you think of some products that are no longer advertised through product placement? If you immediately thought of cigarettes, you’d be right. In fact, characters smoking cigarettes is likely to gain even the tamest of films an R-rating these days. This is because the influence of movies on the behavior of an audience is huge – especially a younger audience.

If that’s the case – and the case is strong enough to drastically cut the appearance of cigarettes in movies and TV shows – then what about alcohol or illegal drugs?

If you’re a parent, especially if you’re actively seeking teen help for addiction issues, you’re probably well aware of how much media there is that portrays alcohol and drug abuse positively. Being drunk or smoking marijuana are often used for comic effect, and even characters taking harder substances are portrayed in a romanticized way.

Even looking through comedies aimed at teenagers, you’ll find lists under titles like “stoner comedy”. Films like Trainspotting or Dazed and Confused from the 90s, or more modern films like Pineapple Express or American Ultra alternate between portraying drug abuse as poetically tragic to apparently hilarious.


Music, especially heavier rock music and rap, is notorious for its promotion and glamorization of substance abuse. Even in an industry fraught with the deaths of often talented artists because of their addictions, musicians continue to promote the idea that substances can aid creativity, or use them to escape the pressures of fame.

This is certainly not a new phenomenon – looking back as far as The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s who promoted mind-altering drugs as gateways to new heights of creativity, hard rock bands of the 70s like Motorhead naming themselves after their own habits, right up to The Weeknd and their 2016 ode to cocaine I Can’t Feel My Face.

There’s no question that teenagers, in particular, find much of their identity in the music they listen to, and it’s a sad fact that so much of that music is focused on promoting or glamorization substance abuse, either for creativity or as a coping mechanism.

Video Games, Social Media, and Modern Culture

Helping teens with addiction gets even harder when you factor in newer forms of entertainment and digital distraction. Although the video game industry is still relatively young, it’s already been dogged with controversies surrounding portrayals of sex, violence and drug use – the most notable being the ongoing Grand Theft Auto series – while games continue to become more realistic. Just like movies, TV, and music, games are everywhere – from consoles and computers, to smartphones.

We also find access to social media on all of those platforms, and it’s become easier than ever for teenagers to covertly communicate with each other about illicit activity. While parents can do their best to police their teen’s use of social media, it’s so universal now that it’s impossible to monitor all activity.

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Recovery: Our Process

At Adult & Teen Challenge, we have been guiding students through addiction recovery for over 60 years. We offer a Christ-centered approach, helping our students discover and triumph over the underlying causes of their addiction and find the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact us today.