Television Shows and Substance Abuse: Inaccurate Depictions Can Threaten Recovery

How television shows can threaten addiction recovery In 2016, Vice, an online source that provides information on politics, drugs, opinion, magazine and more, highlighted several television shows that seem to have missed the mark on providing accurate information on drug use:

  • Saved by the Bell
  • Beverly Hills 90210
  • Fresh Prince of Bel’ Air
  • And more

In the 90s, these shows depicted addiction as something that occurs quickly, with recovery being a simple venture that seemingly only takes one or two days. For example, in Saved By the Bell, Jessie Spano struggles with caffeine pill addiction – but once she becomes too overwhelmed by all of the homework that piles on top of her schedule, she suddenly “quits” her addiction. On top of showing viewers inaccurate information about what addiction’s really like, television shows tend to promote America’s drinking culture – and while they’ve gotten better, glamorization still exists. Shows like Breaking Bad depict the main character turning to crystal meth manufacturing to work as a criminal mastermind; shows like Weeds represent a suburban mom who becomes part of an international drug ring.

Dr. James Sargent, an associate professor of pediatrics in Hanover, New Hampshire, told ABC News,

“TV shows are becoming more edgy, and increasingly depicting more smoking and drugs.”

For friends and families of loved ones in addiction recovery, media isn’t always the first thought that comes to mind; television shows, movies and music can have significant influences on a person’s perceptions, even in the smallest of ways. Those in recovery may find themselves at increased susceptibility for cravings and urges to use, especially as these forms of media can bring about a certain mindset to use again or even the thought that “everyone else is doing it”.

In 2018, U.S. News highlighted that when we’re younger, we develop perceptions on topics such as addiction from our caregivers and those around us. As we get older, however, media reinforces the beliefs that we’ve developed, and those in recovery must be cautious as to what they watch – and listen to – throughout their recovery journey.

Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.