Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The "Horror" of Drug Addiction and Ignoring Mental Health

What messages can teens learn from horror films?

Drug and alcohol addiction starts with most teenagers trying out “adult” behavior—casual drinking, recreational drug use—that turns into regular party behavior if gone unchecked or unnoticed. Mental health issues—if gone untreated or unchecked—can also ruin the life of a teenager who isn’t getting help soon enough.

Incidentally, teen binge drinking not only starts younger than it has traditionally, it also increases around holidays, tied to cultural traditions. Especially during the holidays, drinking is "innocently" reframed, as enticing themes and recipes make alcohol significantly more accessible.

With the holiday season approaching, It is important to look at the horrors that can result from teen addiction and mental health issues. And in keeping with the theme of horrors, it's instructive to look at teen mental health and addiction issues through the lens of horror films.

Why horror movies?

Well, horror movies of all kinds act as harsh morality plays for teenagers.

Unsplash/Sabastiaan Stam
Source: Unsplash/Sabastiaan Stam

When it comes to helping teens learn to navigate the world around them, I always encourage positive exploration. With this in mind, I like to ask: What can we learn from these time-treasured terror tropes?

Teenagers are horror movies’ key demographic, target audience—and subject. There isn’t one slasher film that features middle-aged virgins running from a killer or old people fighting off poltergeists without the aid of children or teens.

Whether we’re watching the classic horror films, contemporary reboots, or inventive new slasher films, there is something to learn beyond the fake blood and jump-out-of-your-seat scares. There are messages about addiction, avoidance of warning signs and monsters as well as familiar tropes that seem like it's not a horror film at all.

Unsplash/Nathan Wrig
Source: Unsplash/Nathan Wrig

They’re out to get youno matter what.

Just like a killer who you can’t shake from following you, addiction will show up wherever you or your teen goes. It hides, lurks, walks slowly, and corners you at a party or social get together. It can show up anytime, whether you want it to or not. And, if left untreated, it can kill you and those you love the most.

Beware the zombies...who are your friends.

We’ve seen enough zombie movies and television series to know that anyone can be touched, bitten, or transform into the walking undead. And just like zombies, addiction trades your human life for a life of enslavement to bad blood, confusion, and infecting others with the disease of never getting enough and traveling aimlessly until you do.

The serial killer isan ancient force.

Vampires are thinly veiled attempts at showing what a serial killer is who preys on young people. They are ancient, psychically empowered, and lure you into a life of servitude where your blood is mixed with that of infected, eternal agent of change. They operate under the cover of night and will trap you in a reality and age that you’ll never get out of.

Source: Unsplash/Percheck-Industrie

“It” always returns.

No matter who the villain is, he will return, and return, and return. Addiction never fully leaves you because a relapse is always one day or moment away—unless you have a healthy routine and a solid support system. This villain targets young, untouched heroes who may just succumb to its pressure and join the ranks of boogeymen and shadow-dwellers. Whether this villain is carrying a knife, hammer, or using its hands, he is persistent and will return in the sequel, usually to battle the same hero until defeat.

And you are the star.

Teenagers who battle addiction or are dealing with mental health issues need to realize that they are, in fact, the protagonists who we all want to see succeed. The star may fail time after time, but failure can lead to powerful breakthroughs and help in future times of distress or relapse.

Like most movies geared towards a younger audience, horror films star both the young hero and the older villain, and the audience is rooting for both. In real life, no one is rooting for the stalker or slasher, but everyone is hoping the protagonist completes the quest, gets help, and finds a way to leave the life of addiction and seek as much help as possible.


More from Mendi Baron
More from Psychology Today
More from Mendi Baron
More from Psychology Today