Euphoria: Glorification of Drugs or the Reality of Withdrawal?

By Sam Ryan

samantha.ryan@spartans.ut.edu

 *Spoilers to Euphoria are included in this article*

HBO’s viral hit series, “Euphoria” is narrated and centered around teen drug addict, Rue Bennett, played by Emmy award winner Zendaya. Not only does Zendaya’s character narrate the series, but Zendaya produces the hit show as well and is partially responsible for its success.

Rue Bennett is a 17- year-old high school drug addict. In the latest episode which aired Feb. 6, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”, Rue’s stash is found by her family. Her ten thousand dollar stash was borrowed from a dangerous drug lord. Rue has had many overdoses and failed attempts of staying clean, the stash was the last straw into her intervention.

The episode shows Rue struggling in search of a fix as she suffers with the side effects of her brutal withdrawal. She is willing to take just about anything to reduce the hell she is evidently going through.

The portrayal of teen drug use in the series sparks some major backlash. A representative for the anti-drug campaign D.A.R.E. recently told TMZ that the second season of “Euphoria” has, “misguidedly and erroneously” depicted high schoolers using drugs, leading to “addiction, anonymous sex, violence, and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world.”

Every viewer is going to take a different message from this series. The intended message may not reach every viewer, and one person may take away something different than the next. This introduces the question: does Zendaya’s character represent the glorification of drugs or the reality of withdrawal?

“I think Rue’s makeup, hair, and outfits compared to the other characters show that she’s not glorifying drugs at all,” said Anastasia Swetz, University of Tampa alumna. “It shows the pain and ugliness of addiction and how it can destroy someone. From the first season to now she’s only gone downhill and it shows that.”

Throughout the series, Rue is constantly questioned about relapse and whether she has remained clean or not. It is evident that Rue has a strong support system behind her that cares about her and wants to see her recover. 

Rue breaks the hearts of her loved ones after constant relapses and broken promises. It is not her intent to cause others this emotional pain, but it is either that, or acquiring dedication to quit for good. This is not a ‘glorification of drugs’, it is showing the reality and hardships of staying clean after years of hard drug use.

I feel as if this is the most accurate depiction of drug withdrawal on television these days. Drugs and alcohol have been so heavily represented in today’s media, but this side is rarely shown. From the beginning of “Euphoria” up until this point, the use of drugs was seen as a freeing escape. But now we see the negative hold they have on Rue.

Nothing about what Rue is going through shows glory. It shows pain, regret, and defeat. The question many can ask themselves when trying to understand Zendaya’s character is whether you feel bad for her, or are jealous of her.

When Zendaya was asked about Rue’s journey this season she said, “I think in this show, and this season more specifically, she hits rock bottom. It’s my hope for people watching that they still see her as a person worthy of their love… if you can love her, then you can love someone that is struggling with the same thing, and maybe have a greater understanding of the pain they’re facing that is often out of their control.”

Sometimes we get in over our heads, sometimes our independence feels altered. Sometimes we feel out of our own control. Rue is the portrayal of losing control, losing hope, losing yourself.

Rue is not glorifying drugs, she is crying for the  help that no one can give her but herself. Many relate to Rue’s story of addiction and can relate to what she goes through. Rue was created for the uncontrollable. Rue is a flawed character, but she is a real character for those who may feel alone. Redemption is possible, withdrawal is real, and drugs are definitely not glorified.

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