The Influence of Pop Culture on Drug Use

in Addiction
Published Dec 23, 2020
influence of pop culture on drug use

Media plays a significant role in the influence of substance use in young adults. We grow up with music and television shows that depict drug and alcohol use as “cool.” Not only is substance use accepted within pop culture, but it is also often glorified–specifically in rap music. A majority of those who listen to rap music are youth living in poverty or who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), meaning various factors can contribute to substance use. However, when the culture around substances is normalized, many people are not properly educated about drug and alcohol use and its dangers. As more and more young adults are regularly using drugs, the overdose rates and addiction rates rise.

Substance Use in Television

Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most portrayed substances on television. Due to its legality, alcohol use is regularly normalized. However, alcohol is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. A 2018 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined alcohol use in 20 favorite TV shows. Across 180 episodes, alcohol use was portrayed 756 times. On average, there were 21 incidents of alcohol use per hour.

We also see alcohol use in long-time favorites, such as The Simpsons. Homer Simpson regularly drinks, which contributes to his destructive behavior. Other shows, such as Riverdale, which have gained popularity amongst young adults, regularly portray teenagers drinking alcohol and engaging in lewd behavior.

Marijuana use has become normalized through comedic, stoner-films. Examples include Dazed and Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Up in Smoke. The weed-influenced adventures in these movies portray marijuana use as fun and non-dangerous. However, marijuana has addictive properties. Recent data suggests that 30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of substance use disorder (SUD). In 2015, about four million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for marijuana use disorder.

Music and Substance Use

A study on music and substance use suggests that substance use may be related to frequent exposure to music containing references to drug use. Illicit drug use in young adults is most closely associated with rap, hard rock, heavy metal, and techno music. More recently, rap music has been connected to influencing substance use. It particularly glorifies and encourages alcohol use, substance use, and violence more than any other genre. However, youth living in poverty or confronting Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) were more likely to listen to rap music. This suggests that rap music may not be the only contributing factor in substance use.

Heavy metal, punk, and reggae are most associated with higher levels of sensation seeking. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) suggests that those with a predisposed seeking sensation may be attracted to these music genres. Sensation seeking may include drug use, violence, and reckless sex.

Promethazine-Codeine Cough Syrup and Rap Music

Promethazine-codeine cough syrup is a medication that contains codeine and promethazine HCl. Codeine is an opioid that acts as a cough suppressant and can produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria at high doses. Promethazine HCl is an antihistamine that additionally acts as a sedative. The cough syrup is also known by the names of lean, sizzurp, or purple drank. Lean is a concoction of promethazine-codeine cough syrup, soda, and sometimes Jolly Ranchers. References to these cough syrup “drinks” started in rap music in the 1990s and have since become increasingly popular among youth.

Famous rappers such as Lil Wayne, Future, 2Chainz, Young Thug, and Danny Brown have all mentioned lean in songs. In 2013, Lil Wayne was hospitalized for seizures related to promethazine-codeine cough syrup. Multiple seizures almost took his life, and he had to get his stomach pumped due to the high amounts of the drug in his system.

Promethazine-codeine cough syrup has a high risk of fatal overdose due to its effects of depressing the central nervous system. This slowing down can slow or stop the heart and lungs. Mixing the drug with alcohol significantly increases this risk.

The Rise of SoundCloud Rap

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in emo-rap on the common streaming system SoundCloud. This specific subculture of rap music glorifies prescription and designer drugs, specifically Xanax. Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescribed to treat general anxiety disorder (GAD). However, it is highly addictive. Recently, Xanax has been commonly laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid-related to numerous deaths across the country.

Lil Peep, who grew in popularity in the rap community due to SoundCloud, died in 2017 of a Xanax overdose. His music contained lyrics about his favorite drugs, including Xanax, weed, cocaine, and “cheap liquor on ice.” His autopsy revealed his death was caused by an accidental overdose of Xanax mixed with fentanyl. The toxicology report found extremely high levels of both substances in his system, along with cocaine, marijuana, and numerous other opiates.

The popular group $uicideboy$ also gained popularity in the rap community through SoundCloud. Their music talks about drug abuse, violence, and self-destruction. While some may believe their lyrics glorify drug abuse, it can be argued that they only wish to raise awareness of the severity substance use has on life. One member of the group, Scrim, is open about being a heroin addict. He has been sober since July 2017.

The world of SoundCloud rap has begun to normalize the use of drugs and alcohol. With rappers who have names like Lil Xan, the use of Xanax has been especially glorified. Many young adults, however, do not educate themselves on the dangers of substance use. It is common today to see drugs laced with fentanyl, which increases the risk of fatal overdose. When rappers portray it as cool to use drugs, the public responds.

Substance and alcohol use is often glorified in pop culture. Many commonly viewed television shows and movies normalize the use of alcohol and marijuana. Drug use is also often portrayed in music, specifically rap. With the rise of SoundCloud rap, many young adults turn to substance use because it is displayed as “cool.” However, using drugs and alcohol has detrimental effects. There is a risk of developing physical dependence and substance use disorder, which creates withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may be uncomfortable, frightening, and even life-threatening. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we use proprietary, evidence-based medical protocols that prioritize our patients’ comfort and safety to guide them through the detox process. Our personalized treatment is delivered in a safe and peaceful environment. Gallus Medical Detox Centers can help if you or a loved one struggles with physical dependence or substance use disorder. Call us at (866) 296-5242 for more information.