Drug use is portrayed in films of all kinds, whether as a main plot point or a device to further a character’s storyline. This isn’t an uncommon problem: approximately 25 million Americans have used an illicit drug at least once in the past month, and 70% of those 18 and older have had a drink. Whether for better or for worse, substance use, both responsible and irresponsible, is a prevalent habit for a significant portion of individuals.
However, the use of substances in media isn’t always realistic. Often painted in extremes and designed to create drama and attract attention, drug use and detox in film rarely send an authentic message— or a positive one. Here’s what pop culture gets wrong about addiction, detox, and recovery.
Drug Use and Detox in Film
The vast majority of content involving drug use in movies and TV shows, especially content aimed at young people, takes one of two angles. The first is that drug abuse is a quick path to death with no way out. The second is that drug use isn’t actually a problem and recreational use is nothing more than a good time.
Both of these stances are, of course, extremely questionable. Glorifying drug use and tying it to parties, sex, and popularity makes it appealing to teens and young adults. This is problematic since it increases the likelihood of substance use without a full understanding of the consequences. As many young people start using in school or with friends, an association with good times and sexual relationships can be dangerous.
Additionally, painting a picture of bleak hopelessness isn’t good either. While this can potentially scare individuals out of using in the first place, it also drives home the point that once use starts, it can’t be stopped and there’s no way to move forward. To promote getting help and healing, it’s essential that users realize that support and treatment are available to aid in recovery.
As with many elements of daily life, there’s a division between life and art. These misconceptions can be very damaging, creating long-term problems for users and non-users alike.
Addiction Isn’t Endearing
In many films, addiction is presented as a charming personality quirk that can be troublesome but ultimately non-damaging. Dozens of movies and TV shows perpetuate this trope. Characters abuse drugs but still manage to be successful— or, at the very least, cope with life in an above average manner.
Take, for example, Dr. House in the eponymous show House. While his drug habit is clear and does occasionally cause problems, he can make world-class diagnoses and provide care that few doctors, if any, could achieve in real life. This impression sets a dangerous precedent, creating the belief that it’s possible to develop an addiction and still maintain high-pressure, professional obligations.
Detox Doesn’t Lead to Romance
In many films and television programs, recovering from drugs is often a conduit for a romantic relationship. The setup seems simple. The titular character is on the same journey with many other people, so the evolution of a relationship would be natural.
However, relationships are completely discouraged and, in some cases, banned, during detox and recovery. While detoxing and getting sober, it’s important to focus on yourself, not other people. You are the only one who can ultimately influence your recovery. So, spending your time focusing on other people is more hurtful than helpful. Take, for example, the TV show Dexter. During the second season, Dexter begins a relationship with his sponsor Lila— which leads to disastrous, deadly results.
A Few Meetings Doesn’t Lead to Recovery
Going to meetings and attending treatment is a great way to get started on the road to sobriety, but actually getting sober requires a lot more than a few meetings here and there.
Too often, TV and film portray the decision to attend rehab as the first and last step needed to get clean. The first meeting is the commitment a character needs, and from there on, they will be happy and healthy.
In real life, this is far from the truth. The first meeting is not the magic key to sobriety. Some people will need many first meetings to connect with the recovery process. Relapse is a reality, and the real process will require a lot more dedication than a single session in treatment.
Detox Isn’t Necessarily Uncomfortable and Painful
It’s true that detox and withdrawal won’t be much fun. Breaking the cycle of addiction, especially a chemical addiction, often comes with extremely unpleasant side effects. Sandra Bullock’s character Gwen Cummings in 28 Days is an excellent example of this; her struggles with detox, especially detox alone, provide a miserable picture of the process.
When undertaken in a licensed, certified facility, doctors and nurses help to keep patients as comfortable as possible. Through a combination of medication, counseling, and therapies like yoga and acupuncture, it’s possible to control symptoms to ensure the best chance of success. There will be low moments, but proper help can ease your discomfort as detox continues.
It’s Not Easy, But It’s Not Impossible
Many movies shoe an overly rosy image of addiction, while others create a bleak, fatalistic view of what addiction means. Requiem for a Dream, for example, is lauded as a cinematic masterpiece, but it doesn’t paint a particularly positive picture of the options available for users. Alternately, other movies show rehab as an instant success, as if going through the motions is all it takes to get sober.
Realistically, quitting will take effort, but it’s not impossible. If you develop a substance use disorder, you are not doomed to suffer for life. Recovery is always an option and, with help, you, too, can quit drugs or alcohol. Choosing to trust a program, go through detox, and commit to counseling does take a leap of faith, but with determination and dedication, sobriety is entirely possible.
The Reality of Detox
In reality, detox is a critical part of ongoing sobriety. The name for the process that breaks the physical bonds of addiction, detoxification is the first step in recovery in most programs. Lasting one to two weeks on average, detox uses a combination of medical, psychological, and physical tools to ease withdrawal and help users stay clean and sober for as long as possible.
The process will have ups and downs – and the pains of withdrawal can be quite hard to bear at times – but making it over the initial hurdle is the key to moving on once and for all. With a successful detox, the stage is set for long-term recovery.
Getting Help from TTC’s Outpatient Services
If you or someone you love is struggling to manage a substance use disorder, you’re not alone. Outpatient Services is here for you, providing the support throughout detox and recovery you need to succeed. Please contact us today at (844) 211-7944 to learn more about what we can offer.