Drugs in Hollywood: What it Means to us

By Emily Banaitis

From its creation, Hollywood has always been the epicenter of fame and wealth. To be an actor or musician was to have it all, but all of that fame and glory came at a price. Most understand that working in the entertainment industry requires long hours of work with little time for sleep and selfcare. That is when they found comfort in other forms, more specifically, in the form of drugs. When you are given everything, you could have ever wanted, sometimes you seemingly need more.

Drugs in the entertainment industry have not gone past the curious eyes of the public. The glamorization of drugs was prominent in the ‘60s and ‘70s through TV shows and movies and even in entertainment news. 

Drugs in the media didn’t rear its ugly head though until the 1920s. In the 1940s, movie star Judy Garland was one of the brightest young actresses Hollywood had. What the public wasn’t aware of until later in her life was that Garland was involved with drugs since she was young. Her mother pushed pills on her when she was 10 years old to fuel her energy levels. 

When filming movies like Pigskin Parade or The Wizard of Oz, Garland was forced to diet by her studio executives. “To maintain her weight, Mayer insisted she consume only chicken soup, black coffee and cigarettes, along with pills to reduce her appetite,” said Colin Bertram in an article titled “Judy Garland Was Put on a Strict Diet and Encouraged to Take ‘Pep Pills’ While Filming the ‘Wizard of Oz’.”

These pills, a combination of stimulants and appetite suppressants, taken in addition to sleeping pills would form the drug addiction she fought every moment of her life. 

 According to History.com, there was no official policy of drug use within Hollywood studios, but the carefully regimented system that cultivated movie stars often relied on behind-the-scenes drug use to power actors through unthinkably long days.

It wasn’t just Garland using pills, it was a lot of people in the industry who wanted to be their very best and always desired to be on top.The secrets of early Hollywood might have stayed away from the public eye for a while but eventually it would all come out to the public.. As the years passed the use of pills slowly died down and the use of the amphetamines was all the rage mostly due to the abuse of it by soldiers in World War II. 

Throughout the ‘60s the use of this drug and “rainbow diet pills”, (a mix of sedatives and stimulants), along with marijuana use, heroin and LSD became an epidemic in America. Progressing through the ‘70s the drug use stayed relatively the same with marijuana use which “had doubled in 1977,” according to a story published by Gallup News titled “Decades of Drug Use: Data from the 60s and 70s.” In the ‘80s drugs became more glamourize with crack cocaine taking the reins.

“Crack was cheap, plentiful and hideously addictive,” said Jennifer Robison, a writer for Gallup News who penned the article “Decades of Drug Use: The 80s and 90s.”  “Its effects — including gang warfare and crack babies — were quickly gaining notoriety.” 

In the late ‘90s, the use of party drugs became all the rage. Due to the influence of pop culture, heroin, meth and ecstasy were among the top three drugs to take control of people around the U.S.

As the years progressed the use of marijuana and later the use of acid, shrooms, molly, and other psychedelics took hold in America. The prominence of these drugs didn’t just take hold overnight but rather were encouraged through various forms of media, (i.e.: movies, tv shows, music, music videos, etc.).

“The entertainment industry has portrayed drugs in such a way to where you are either going to get the greatest high or you are gonna die,” said Christopher Novak, an adjunct communication professor at The University of Tampa.  “Most of the time it is the former compared to the latter.  When we see it now, I believe it makes us wonder more if it at least is worth the experiment.” 

 We also understand that when we look at celebrities and the rich lifestyles they live that there is a chance they are living and participating in this culture. We correlate in our brains the two things together even though they might not always be aligned every time. 

“One cannot just look at the 80’s as the combo of music/drug culture,” said Novak. “You had Bob Dylan in the early/mid 60’s who everyone knew was taking certain substances.  Even the Beatles shared in various documentaries about their drug use and how it influenced their music and in turn affected the mentality of people and drug use. Look at Fleetwood Mac and the Rumors album.  It was the cocaine (among other things) that was credited with the band’s pushing themselves to make the best music they could and I am certain that it was a contributor to more cocaine use.” 

According to the American Addiction Center, “71% of prime-time television programs depict alcohol use, 19% depict tobacco use, 20% mention illicit drug use, and 3% depict illicit drug use.” 

Recently, there has been more of an effort to show the consequences of drugs, as if artists are no longer glorifying drug use but rather warning about the dangers of it.

A current HBO show called Euphoria is a great example of showcasing the highs and lows of drug use in modern society. The main character Rue is struggling with addiction to drugs and the series follows her and her friends alike as they navigate all the highs and lows of high school. 

Euphoria thereby takes drug use out of the lazy frame of the unthinking partygoer,” writes Zachary Siegal, a staff writer for Vulture Magazine. “Yes, Rue goes to parties, but she’s not exactly making memories with her friends while she walks on the walls and ceiling in a K-hole.” The message behind Euphoria is very simple. They wanted to showcase that the use of drugs is euphoric but what the writers also wanted to show was the destructive effects it can have on not only the addict but the people who associate with the addict as well.

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