The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that roughly 23.5 million Americans abuse drugs and alcohol each year. Among those who abuse a substance, only about 11 percent obtain treatment and attempt to recover. Although the causes of substance abuse can be very complicated, the media and movies play a significant role in the way that young adults, children and teenagers perceive the potential risks and benefits of the substance.

Substance Abuse in Movies

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, or NCJRS, roughly 22 percent of movies depict substance abuse in some way. Among the movies that promote or refer to substance abuse, drama, comedy or action-adventure movies have a large percentage of the references, says the NCJRS.

With a large number of movies depicting or referencing substance abuse, it is not surprising that media can play a role in the development of an addiction. The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics explains that advertisements and movies can encourage the idea that substance abuse is glamorous, fun or exciting. It encourages young individuals to try the substance.

Movies do not always promote substance abuse directly, but there can be subtle references to the use of drugs or alcohol in different movies. Addiction Treatment Magazine says that most teenagers spend roughly 20 to 40 hours per week watching television, including movies that are on television. According to Addiction Treatment Magazine, the casual way that drugs or alcohol are handled in the media can normalize the behavior or make the substances seem appealing to individuals who want to fit in with their peers.

Subtle Messages

Movies do not always make substance abuse seem cool or glamorous, but there are many cases where subtle messages may be used to promote alcohol abuse or drug abuse. Subtle messages occur in movies that do not specifically discuss the topic, but may depict characters that use drugs or alcohol.

In the case of subtle messages, the movie may show a character drinking some alcohol, smoking cigarettes or using other substances. It may not be directly discussed or shown, but the implication of substance use or abuse may be part of the movie.

Direct Messages

Along with movies that use subtle messages to promote drugs or alcohol, there are also direct messages from many movies. Comedies may show the adventures of individuals who are abusing drugs or may depict the humor of an individual who is behaving oddly due to excessive drinking.

Direct messages in movies and other media sources make the abuse of a substance look cool or attractive. The NCJRS says that illicit substance abuse is usually associated with luxury lifestyles or violent crime. In movies, roughly 15 percent of the individuals who use illicit drugs are wealthy, says NCJRS. Another 30 percent of movies that depict illicit drug abuse are related to violent crime.
The direct messages in movies can depict different situations and may not always show substance abuse as a cool or glamorous activity; however, it can be dangerous for young adults and teenagers who may not think about the potential consequences of substance abuse.

Media sources like movies and music can have an impact on the behavior of individuals who are abusing drugs or alcohol. The misunderstanding that drugs or other substances are glamorous can be damaging and even potentially life-threatening, but there are solutions that can help reduce the risks, encourage treatment if it is necessary and ensure that loved ones are not being influenced by the media.