Some may argue that Euphoria was a cultural reset for Gen Z. With its unique fashion, cinematography, and soundtrack, it had a good portion of young adults and teens in a chokehold. After the release of Season 1 of Euphoria, amidst the praise and general appreciation of the show, many began to criticize the way the show portrayed addiction. With Season 2 coming to an end and keeping us on the edge of our seats, the debate continues: How glamorously is Euphoria really illustrating these issues? As the plot of Euphoria has progressed, so has the accuracy in depicting addiction, making it an excellent show in shining light onto the ugly side of addiction.
One of the main critiques of Euphoria was that it depicted drug use and addiction as glamorous and “not a big deal.” Additionally, some argue that substances are referred to as a coping mechanism for mental illness that masks some of its symptoms, while also giving the message that the substance abuse is better than suicide or self-harm. In Season 1, some scenes can give off this impression. When the main character, Rue, does strong drugs, the show illustrates what it would be like if we were on the same drugs as Rue. This can be seen in both the first episode of Season 1 at the party when she is climbing the walls and seeing things in glitter and color with Jules at Jules’ house. Rue even directly states “I’m so happy.” A lot of the scenes that show Rue on drugs from her perspective can make it seem almost “fun” to be doing these drugs through the bright colors and appealing visuals.
However, this should not be taken as “glamorizing drugs” when the rest of the content surrounding Rue and drugs portrays how much it affects one’s life. The reason Rue is saying she’s “so happy” because of drugs isn’t supposed to make the audience want to do them but is rather supposed to make the audience feel sad for Rue and the fact that she needs drugs in her life to feel happy. Sam Levinson even added, “people can tell if we’re pulling our punches and not showing the relief that drugs can be. It starts to lose its impact.” For instance, the show has a very real take on the reality of becoming sober. The show starts when Rue gets back from rehab and then goes straight to Fezco, her drug dealer, for more drugs. Later, Rue is banging on the door of Fezco’s house, begging for drugs and screaming at him and crying at the door. This won Zendaya an award and illustrates the power of addiction and how reliant it can make an individual.
The show also provides flashbacks in Season 1 from when Rue overdosed and her little sister found her. In fact, one of the best jobs Euphoria does depicting addiction is the effect it can have on family and loved ones. Season 2 has been a lot less glamorous in terms of outfits, visuals and cinematography in general, already forcing the audience to take matters more seriously. The season has shown us little to no romanticization of addiction. The season centers around Rue’s struggle of relapsing, illustrating both the physical and mental effects of addiction. In episode 5 and 6 especially, the show heavily depicted the painfulness of withdrawal. Rue is shaking and unable to really move as she sits at the kitchen table in the beginning of episode 1, unable to open the Jolly Rancher sitting in front of her. She is in intense stomach pain throughout both of these episodes, enough to make the audience grimace in sympathy for her. These physical impacts are clearly used in the show to portray the damage of drugs on the body and the unbearable cycle of addiction and withdrawal that is difficult to escape.
Additionally, the plot clearly shows the audience how Rue’s addiction is slowly burning bridges and destroying almost every relationship she has with those around her. From the beginning of the show, it is clear that Rue has a complicated relationship with her mom. Her mom does not trust her and is scared for her safety which causes Rue to push back and not tell her things. Gia, the younger sister, is close with Rue but also clearly scared and worried for Rue’s safety. In Season 1, there are scenes of Rue and her mother yelling at each other and other extremely escalated fights with Gia always watching them occur and crying or yelling for them to stop. Having a loved one struggle with addiction especially at a young age like Gia’s can be extremely traumatizing and a constant difficulty in life, which is very well shown in the context of Euphoria. Gia struggles with being scared for Rue and Euphoria is sympathetic towards Gia’s struggle and anger that Rue’s cycle of addiction continues.
In Season 2, Rue and her mom have an awful fight where they are screaming at each other and Rue is kicking at the door. Gia looks terrified and is crying the whole time, while Rue yells terrible things at her mom over and over again only to apologize a couple moments later in an attempt to take everything back. This instability in an addict’s behavior is portrayed very realistically through these scenes and the audience can really feel the fear that Gia is going through and the wedge Rue is driving between herself and her family. Rue slowly starts to lose all of her friends as well. First, Rue’s relationships with Jules and Elliot are strained when they tell Rue’s mom about her lack of sobriety and Rue is extremely mad that they would betray her like that, immediately cutting both Jules and Elliot off.
Even early on in the episode, Rue inappropriately tells Ali, her sponsor, horrible things that have to do with his past, resulting in him cutting Rue off. In the last episode, the audience can see Rue going through withdrawal and realize how badly she hurt Ali when she was relapsing and desperately wanting to apologize, fearful that he may never forgive her.
Through these struggles in Rue’s relationships, we see that her addiction causes her to lash out at and isolate from the people that care about her and say things to them she may never be able to take back. This is clearly incorporated in the show to depict how the instability of addiction can cause individuals to obliterate their support systems and consistently hurt themselves and those around them that they love, with little control over themselves to stop doing it. The contrasts of Season 1 to Season 2 are showing how the minute visual appeal of drugs isn’t worth the collateral damage of the vicious cycle of addiction ruining one’s life and relationships.
Photo courtesy of HBO.