What HBO’s Euphoria got right about Drug Addiction.

There’s a lot to unpack in the first 4 episodes so I’m going to stick to the key points.

Just a brief note that this may contain spoilers for the show.

Rue’s character, a teenager just out of rehab post a drug overdose, is played skillfully by Zendaya. As someone who struggles from addiction, mental health and having a history of ODing, I wasn’t sure I could connect with her teenage character but that changes as the series moves forward. Rue’s story surrounds masking the feeling of panic attacks, O.C.D and anxiety. She briefly tells us how she has no apparent reason to be struggling with these things, which is the case for a lot of us as well. It’s a common misconception that you have to be a victim to something to struggle with mental health.

At a young age she encounters this feeling of the world stopping and the air leaving her lungs for a brief period of time. She is admitted to the hospital during one of her attacks at which point begins her journey with drugs. At the hospital she’s given Valium to calm her down and so begins the journey into addiction, at 12 years old. We are now shown the “romantic” side of taking drugs; the parties, the world slowing down, the control you think you have, but really it’s just a trick. It’s the “two seconds of nothingness” that she’s chasing that addicts tend to yearn for when doing drugs. We take a pill, snort a line, drink to much all in effort to find that place for a brief moment in time where it feels like we’re in control. It’s a place that that makes everything feel right, removes our problems, worries and convinces us we need to stay there.

Immediately out of rehab, Rue starts doing drugs again. Her dealer, Fez, expresses concern for her, which will be an important part of this story moving forward. I want to move forward a bit and talk about the anxiety she experiences in assimilating back to high school. Something we can do better as a society and as we raise kids, is discuss the importance of understanding mental health and addiction. The kids in her high school are more interested in the gossip surrounding the fact that she’s still alive than her actual well being post rehab. At the age of a teenager, on-going stares and whispers from your peers can be tough to handle, without the added stress of mental health disorders.

As Rue’s story continues, we see the journey of what any addict can experience at a time. Post rehab or during a relapse we can go to extreme measures to cover up using again. Rue goes to extreme measures of asking her friends to help her pass her drug test by using their urine, instead of hers. Along with drug tests, she’s required to go to NA where she shares her story of being sober although she isn’t. I’m skipping over a bit to here because I want to discuss the accountability other members of these group feel. As someone who’s an addict and has been to NA/AA we have a keen eye for drug use especially in these situations. Rue is confronted by a member outside of the meeting who goes on to uncover that he knows she’s lying. This part of the story resonated with me because he takes you through the affect drugs / addiction have our family and friends. Too often we are so far lost in our addiction, we dismiss that the ones closet to us are also affected. The tricky thing about coming to this realization or forcing someone to come to it, is that the person needs to be in a place where it matters. If my wife, or a family/friend would have come to me when my addiction was full blown, I wouldn’t have cared about anyone instead I’d care about getting to that place of euphoria, where nothing else mattered but the way I felt at that moment.

The reason I felt compelled to write about this series was driven by a very particular moment. When dealing with addiction and/or mental health issues, the slightest bit of trigger seems like the worlds end. When you fight with a friend, do poorly on a test, receive constructive feedback, it feels like the sky is falling and the walls are closing in. In addition to this, when someone tells you “it’s not that bad” it pushes you further down that black hole and the walls close faster. Who do you run to when you feel like the world doesn’t understand or your friends are mad at you? Drugs. Back to Rue’s story, we see her in this situation, it’s pouring rain, she’s just had a fight with her best friend and she heads to her dealers house who refuses to sell her drugs. This is the scene that my stomach dropped because I’ve been there. I’ve begged my dealers to sell me more drugs to take away the pain. I’ve blamed others for my addiction because the introduced me to drugs or caused me the pain I’m trying to cover. We see Rue outside banging on Fez’s door and she yells at him that it’s his fault she’s addicted because he sold them to her despite being a teen in high school. She calls him a hypocrite for making money by selling drugs but caring about her drug use. For a brief moment in time, you’re taken to a place that if you aren’t an addict, you’ll never get to see. The moment that everything comes to a stop, including your supply for drugs. Its this moment that we, addicts, are our most vulnerable. It feels like our world is over and our heart is giving way. We have no options. It’s here that the story continues, and Rue calls the man who confronted her outside of NA. He goes on to share his insight including the point that “no one really calls unless they have no other options” alluding to her not having options to do drugs. We, as addicts know one another better than most think. We’ve struggle down the same path. We’ve been in the same dark basement where the walls close and most importantly we can read one another through our actions and words. So far, I’m pleased with the way Euphoria has portrayed drug addiction. At first I was worried they were only going to show the romantic side of drugs: Parties in high school, sex, fitting in, etc, but they showed the ugly side. They showed the possibility of overdose and being found by a loved one. They showed Rue in her most vulnerable state, with literally no options and they’ve begun to show the impact we can have on one another through our addiction.

If you know someone struggling, don’t try to fix them. Instead, try to just be with them and understand them. Try to understand what it means to find that place where nothing else matters. Hear us out when we talk about dark things you may find disturbing. Most importantly, please don’t ever tell us “it’s not that bad” because where it seems small to you, it’s Mount Everest to us.