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The Danger of Seeing Addiction on TV

Numerous TV shows promote alcohol or drug use.

Sukhveer Hans/UnSplash
Everyday we are exposed to addictive traits through a variety of shows and movies
Source: Sukhveer Hans/UnSplash

Every day, millions turn on the television to watch their favorite programs. For the most part, the shows people watch have little to no known negative effects. However, for those that have an addiction, watching TV can prove to be a very dangerous road to go down.

The reality of what you see on television is not necessarily reality. Every show that depicts a group of friends hanging out at the local bar can prove to be a trigger for an individual that has a history of alcoholism. It allows the person to think that it will be ok to associate with their friends and that they can have one drink and everything will be alright.

The problem is that television does not stop at showing scenes of bars. As society continues to push the boundaries, the more dangerous the addictive trigger becomes. Today, it has become the norm to even see some people getting high on the thought that it was fun. I mean after all, everything will be fixed after 30 minutes to an hour.

Television programming has continued to allow the promotion of drug abuse and for what reason? The answer is simple and that is ratings. The aspect of an individual getting wasted just to make the audience laugh is growing in popularity each and every day. You cannot continue to think that this lifestyle excuses them for relapse into a negative mindset.

Shows such as The Simpsons and Cheers depict drinking as something that is simply done after work with friends or on the weekend. It shows all the so-called fun that everyone is having and that there are no negative consequences for their actions.

However, shows such as CSI, Cops and The Shield promote drug use, and while there is some accountability, these are not nearly the worst. In the show Breaking Bad, the character not only glorifies methamphetamine use, but also makes viewers think that it is alright to manufacture and sell drugs.

So how did we allow ourselves to think that this is something that is acceptable to watch? As society accepts things as the norm, the things that we watch on television will continue to grow worse.

According to the Project Know website, which discusses how television influences the nature of addiction, comedy-related shows account for an astounding 41 percent of addiction-related topics. Often these shows' focal point was using addiction for humor and completely erasing the factors of the consequences of the abuse of said substances. Doing so often leaves the audience with the process of thinking that this form of behavior is completely accepted in society.

When drug use and alcoholism are mentioned in this light, it often has an influence that pressures those not of legal age to want to use. Studies have often shown that teenagers who are exposed to substances through television have a higher tendency to want to pick up and use.

As someone who has spent nearly 30 years in recovery, I can relate to the temptation that television shows often bring. For an individual who is early in their recovery, seeing someone use often brings back the euphoric effect and tricks the person into thinking that this is something that is acceptable. What they do not see is the negative side of the addictive behaviors. I honestly wish that they would show individuals who became sick from drinking too much alcohol or having withdrawal from not getting drugs into their system. I think that if I had seen the negative impact of addiction through the power of television, there might have been the opportunity to not go down that negative pathway.

Television seems to promote and even celebrate alcohol as a coping device in times of trouble or stress. And portrayals of drinking onscreen are ubiquitous: Alcohol is the top drug portrayed on American TV, with about one drinking scene shown every 22 minutes. The overall message to viewers is that, while other drugs might be considered complicated, alcohol is a harmless social substance.

The problem with a variety of television shows is that they create the illusion that the addiction can be recognized, addressed, and cured in a matter of 30 minutes or less. There was an episode on the show Saved by the Bell in which the character Jessie starts taking caffeine pills to keep her awake to prepare for a huge test. During the show, she was confronted about the addiction, came to the consciousness of her problem and was fixed before the show was completed.

This is sending a message to an audience that in 30 minutes to an hour all will be well. This could not be further from reality. The reality of addiction is much more complex than what it has made out to be in certain TV shows. An addiction cannot be cured in the course of an episode, and it takes more than a few days to quit using drugs and alcohol completely. Without formal help, withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, and the person’s condition can worsen.

To conclude, most people do agree on the danger of normalizing drugs, and this danger is more pronounced in series as compared to movies. A movie is a one-time shot — it does influence you, but it is not continuously present. Series make you get to know the characters, you see them every week, and they will stay in your memory, sometimes feeling a bit like your friends. Seeing this repetitive use of drugs by someone you start to think you know might have a significant influence on your decision to use a drug or not.

So I want to ask you this question: Is what I am seeing on television impacting my life in a positive manner or in a negative manner? If it is something that could cause you to relapse, then you need to address what you are seeing and address the ways that you will be able to cope with the negative situations. You have a choice to change the channel or to turn off the television and remove yourself from the negativity that it provides.

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© Michael J. Rounds 10,000 Days Sober

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