Psychologist discusses Euphoria’s depiction of addiction

“So there’s no way it’s really accurate because, well, it’s a TV show.”

The last season of Euphoria officially ended last weekend, and if you watched, you’d know the show deals with some pretty big issues, like substance abuse and addiction.

In case you need a quick recap of what happened this season, Rue, played by Zendaya, is starting to do drugs again in secret, despite telling everyone she’s sober. His drug use is eventually exposed and we see the breakdown of his relationship with his family, friends, girlfriend, and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor.

Since there have been criticisms and discussions about the show’s portrayal of addiction and teen drug use, we asked an expert to chime in. Dr. Aimee Martinez, a licensed clinical psychologist who works with older teens and young adults, shared her thoughts below:

Now that season 2 is over, do you think Euphoria portrays addiction realistically? Which part do you care about the most?

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“I’ve seen strong opinions online that the show ‘glorifies’ addiction. Specifically, DARE released a statement. I support Zendaya on this,” Dr. Martínez told BuzzFeed. “The show is an hour long and tries to cram together a plethora of moments in a short amount of time. So there’s no way it’s going to be really accurate because, well, it’s a TV show. But I think Euphoria captures the nuance and variability of addiction and those living with it as well as those affected by it.”

“It’s easy to get caught up in the depictions of addiction and sexuality on the show,” she continued. “However, on a deeper level, the Euphoria The storyline creates a connection between how deep trauma and disrupted relationships can lead to addiction and forms of self-sabotage. And how, as a teenager, Rue deals with intense feelings, complicated grief, loneliness and worries about separating from her only remaining parent. Separating from caregivers/parental figures in early adulthood and coming into your own is something we can all relate to.”

Arguably one of the most shocking scenes this season is when Rue exposes Cassie and Nate in front of everyone. (“How long have you been fucking Nate Jacobs?”) What do you think of Rue’s behavior in this scene?

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“Often in addiction, a coping strategy can be to project yourself onto others. It’s a way of saying, ‘it’s not me, it’s you.’ This strategy helps to deflect and protect against what they or they are doing rather than sitting with the feelings and consequences of their behaviors and the impact on others,” she explained. “Rue distracted from her issues by bringing attention to the situation of Cassie with Nate and Maddie.”

Another scene that came as a shock this season was when Rue got into an argument with her sponsor, Ali. What do you think of this and the show’s portrayal of Rue’s experience with Narcotics Anonymous in general?

Eddy Chen/HBO

“Often those who have been abandoned (in this case, Rue by his father upon his death) will become abandoners before they can be abandoned. His need to push away his godfather is his desperate attempt to protect himself from another devastating loss. .of a father figure,” Dr. Martínez said.

“Nate really got into Rue’s head at the school dance when he suggested that Jules would leave Rue and his life in their small town and never look back. I think Nate was fully aware of Rue’s sensitivity. abandoned and used it against her. Rue’s fear of this abandonment drives her to self-sabotage,” she continued.

“One of the tenants in NA needs to keep coming back. And Rue is doing that even on his difficult road to recovery. The idea is that if you keep coming back, the program could eventually work.”

The season reaches a turning point when Jules discovers that Rue has been using drugs all along, then tells Rue’s mother. Rue is then confronted by her family about her problem. What do you think of this scene?

Eddy Chen/HBO

“That scene was so painful to watch. Rue isn’t just defensive, she’s enraged at her mother and sister. On a deeper level, I think the anger is just a mask for her terror to know what will happen given that she has lost ‘the suitcase’ and the massive consequences are inevitable,” she said. “Her refusal to use pills, blaming her mother for the causes of her addiction, and gaslighting her sister are all classic ways a person with addiction might react when confronted .”

Shortly after the confrontation, Rue’s mother attempts to drive her to a rehabilitation center. Before getting out of the car, she says, “Five percent. That’s my chance, 1 in 20,” referring to the odds of staying sober. Is it true ?

Eddy Chen/HBO

“Part of recovery can be relapse and, like any habit, addiction can be hard to break. But with addiction in particular, there can be a life-threatening element that makes the stakes higher. For example, if someone is off heroin for an extended period of time and then uses again, there is a risk of overdose because the body is not able to tolerate the same amount of drug after a certain degree of sobriety,” explained Dr. Martínez.

“With addiction, people struggle with extreme brain damage. For example, sexual orgasm creates a certain amount of pleasure in the body and mind. Now imagine if that was altered to create a scenario where c This is 5-10 times the case.. This is what illegal drug use can create. It’s not natural – but when someone experiences it, they may want more. It is unrealistic to naturally be in such a sustained state of stimulation in the human experience. Being human means learning to tolerate the limits of joy, pain, [and] pleasure.”

Later, Rue’s mother calls a rehabilitation center to try to get her daughter admitted. She says “If you don’t admit it, she will die.” How true do you think this is? Would Rue’s admission be the only treatment option? If not, what are the other treatment options?

Eddy Chen/HBO

“Unfortunately the treatment system, like so many other systems, is flawed and overwhelmed by demand. I think it is also important to mention that the discrepancies between private and public treatment are staggering and the difficulty of access has a disproportionate impact on communities with fewer resources, which are often communities of color.”

As you know, this show is centered around high school kids. What is the prevalence of drug use in this age group?

Eddy Chen/HBO

“Drug and alcohol use has actually declined among teens during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she replied, citing a 2021 study from the University of Michigan. “It was the first time the study had experienced a decline since 1975. The study which compiled 32,260 surveys of students enrolled in 319 public and private schools in the United States included students in 8th, 10th and Grade 12. Traditionally, about 13% of Grade 8 students have reported using drugs, about 30% for Grade 10 students, and 40% for Grade 12 students. 12% in 2021. As the world opens up again, it is difficult to predict whether this decline will continue.”

Are there any other scenes that stand out to you from this season that the show did well?

Eddy Chen/HBO

“In the finale, after Lexi reads the steeple poem to Rue, she thinks that none of her or anyone’s words can be more comforting to Rue than the drugs. I felt it was exceptionally deep in that sense that no one could really connect with Rue’s devastating loss,” she said.

“Her father’s death only confirms to Rue that relationships are unpredictable and loss is inevitable. For her, drugs are a sure thing, a comfort she can control. “she has to learn – that relationships aren’t something that can be controlled.”

To learn more about Dr. Martínez and her work, follow her on Instagram.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and find more resources here.

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