The NYU Dispatch

Movies, Culture, and Drug Addiction

Drugs have always been a part of the human experience. From early days and the birth of civilization to the hippie movement of free love and psychedelics, drugs have been intertwined with our culture, belief systems, and way of life. And with the rise of media came the glamorization of drugs. Various popular icons, Walter White from Breaking Bad, to the crew on Narcos—an award winning series regarding the Columbian drug cartel in the 80s. It’s safe to say that our media is addicted to the idea of strong drug related personalities.

These shows humanize its characters and normalize drugs. Never before has the drug trade or the topic of illegal substances been as rampant. Previously, all topics or movies created by the media were met with controversy and negativity. Such was the fate of many, such as Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, and Gia—featuring Angelina Jolie as the world’s first supermodel, Gia Marie Carangi.

There might be some who are afraid that drugs would become the new cigarettes of Hollywood, exposing children and impressionable youths and desensitizing them to the act of injecting themselves or being high as well as giving them the impression that it is normal, albeit illegal. Yet how illegal could it be, when it is virtually everywhere.

In 1990, heroin chic became the pinnacle of drug addiction in media, especially in the fashion industry whereby the androgynous aesthetic was sought after by designers, photographers and brands, believing that sicker you look, the more people looked at you. As an industry wrought with drug addiction, thirteen designers banded together in order to overthrow the sentiment with the formation of Designers Against Addiction.

However, they were not able to stop the spread of the destructive image through the internet and especially in the youth culture. The fad only came to an end after a fashion photographer—who famously controversial in his works depicting intoxicated models—Davide Sorrenti, died from a drug overdose.  This led to a healthier aesthetic being employed and the past of the drug-fueled, emancipated, heroin chic trend all but forgotten.

The media has not been able to help itself from relapsing back into the habit of glamorizing what is not deemed good for society. If only one takes a look at the music scene, specifically, but not limited to, rap artists, one will find enough material to overdose on. The implications and references to drugs are not only easy to find, but hard to miss.

There are two sides to the story on the war between sobriety and addiction. Notorious rapper Russ tweeted a photo after a show in 2017, wearing a shirt printed with the following: HOW MUCH XANS AND LEAN DO YOU HAVE TO DO BEFORE YOU REALIZE YOU’RE A (EXPLETIVE) LOSER. An obvious attempt at appealing to members of his industry to tone it down a notch, but was picked up by a pop culture website, Mass Appeal, and criticized as insensitive.

They claim, along with many psychologists, that those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other forms of mental illnesses try to self-medicate by consuming alcohol or popping a pill. This creates a dependency on the substance allow themselves to function in a manner they believe to be ‘normal’.

The Guardian has an idea that addiction is self-wrought, and many think themselves into dependency. It stems from the very basics of human nature, whereby new experiences are desired, leading to experimentation and eventual addiction.

But the situation of heroin addiction has become intensely critical; to the point that volunteers are trained to administer Naloxone, “a substance that reverses the effects of opioids in case of heroin overdoses”. According to Accuracy in Media (AIM), a non profit organization dedicated to unveiling the truth in new reports and stories, this practice was originally only offered to medical staff or emergency personnel. They claim that heroin addiction is an epidemic, and in their report from 2016, 129 people die every day from the narcotic.

Failing to police the streets and net from drug peddlers or the people from becoming addicting, more and more rehab centers have taken up real estate in America. Scientist have developed more drugs to quell dependency. Some go on to become a new drug of choice, such as heroin, which was marketed as a safe, anti-addictive alternative to morphine.

One vaccine seems specially promising. Developed by a team consisting of Dr. Thomas Kosten, a psychiatry professor, and Therese Kosten, a neuroscientist and psychologist, at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Termed as TA-CD, it aims to “inoculate people against dangerously addictive substances such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine”. With it being “one to ten years” away, people are looking toward more holistic options.

A relatively new substance, Ibogaine, was discovered to possess anti-addictive properties with the ability to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Hence, giving way to using Ibogaine treatment as an addiction interrupter. It stems from a plant found in Africa called Tabernathe Iboga. The extract has also been found to repair synapses in the brain and healing it from the use of drugs. It basically resets the brain and cuts all withdrawal ties to opiates. However, experts advise that it is not a miracle cure, and it is incapable of helping with cravings as it goes beyond its ability to help a user forget how it felt like to be intoxicated or high.

With promising treatments on the horizon, it seems treatment will be our only hope—as media will continue to push drug culture on the world regardless of intent. The world says take drugs, yet, many are hurting for treatments that work. Will glamorization of drug use ever end? Only the future will tell.

This article was contributed by fellow NYU students. If you would like to make a contribution to the NYU Dispatch, please email us.

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