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The Portrayal of Drugs in Television and Movies

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2056 words Published: 27th Sep 2021

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Television seems to glorify drinking alcohol and the use of nicotine “whether actors are bellying up to Joes Emerald City Bar in Greys Anatomy or swigging a martini at MacLarens on How I Met Your Mother,” (McKean, 2006) television seems to say drinking alcohol is sexy, popular and okay. Alcohol gets free exposure on prime-time television. In shows such as CBS Two and a Half Men, Fox’s Happy Hour and ABC’s Brothers and Sisters, cocktails and cigarettes have replaced the usual cup of coffee after work. These shows portray negative messages that drinking after work or at social gatherings is socially accepted. Reality shows such as Intervention and Celebrity Rehab depict the full range of alcohol and illicit drug use with real life footage of heroin, crack cocaine, meth and other addictions. These shows illustrate the physical and mental destruction of what can happen to a person when they use drugs.

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Shows such as Intervention and Celebrity Rehab show the downfall and the reality of drug use. While other shows seem to venerate the use of alcohol with humor and sex, these shows depict how strong addiction can be and how families are affected by drug use. Shows such as these send a strong message to viewers about the realities of drug use and the reality of treatment. There is no pretty picture painted about an easy recovery neither does it glamorize a cool picture of heroin, meth, crack, inhalants and alcohol. The reality is clear, it sends the message don’t do drugs because this is what will happen to you, your family and your life.

A positive aspect of the prime time television and alcohol use is that when an underage person is depicted as using alcohol they portray the consequences and turn into a positive learning experience. The negative aspect of alcohol and drug use in television is that it sends a negative message to teenagers, it’s says it’s cool to drink and smoke. According to Kids Health.com kids and teens ages eight to eighteen spend nearly four hours a day watching television ( The Nemours Foundation, 2010). This is about three times the time amount they spend listening to the radio. Children are greatly influenced by what they watch and many of them idolize stars from these shows and want the mimic what they watch, especially if the use of alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs are glamorized. These shows depict unsafe behavior and often there are no consideration about the consequence of on the use of alcohol, smoking and use of drugs.

Alcohol and nicotine seem to be a favorite among prime time shows; illicit drug use is mostly portrayed in movies. Illicit drugs use and alcohol are hyped up in movies more so than in prime time, but some movies also send a message how drugs can lead to destruction and the struggle to overcome addiction. In 1995, The Basketball Diaries staring Leonard DiCaprio portrayed the true story of Jim Carroll a teenager’s struggle with heroin addiction whose only desires are the game of basketball and heroin. In The Basketball Diaries Jim’s the only escape from a best friend that is dying and a coach who is a child predator is heroin. In a downward spiral Jim’s addiction for heroin leads him into the streets where he steals, robs and prostitutes himself. It is only through a friend and his relentless pursuit of his desire for Jim to be clean that he overcomes his addiction and fulfills his dreams. The message in The Basketball Diaries relays how drug addiction can destroy your dreams lead you into a path of crime and self destruction. The message in this movie was a detail of how a lifestyle can easily be misled through the use of drugs and the struggle a person will have to take to overcome that addiction. This move portrayed a very effective message; drugs can destroy all your dreams, lead you into a life where basically you would sell your soul to get your next hit. It also showed the struggles to overcome addiction and how positive your life can become once you decide to make positive choices in your life.

As much as alcohol and drug use may be glorified in prime time television, there are also antidrug advertisements that try to educate parents and children on peer pressure and the effects of drug use. In 1998 Congress created The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign in collaboration with Partnership for a Drug-Free America the goal of this campaign is preventing and reducing youth drug abuse across the nation. The main goal of this campaign is to create advertisements that deliver antidrug use and the dangers of that behavior to youths. According to The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) 2009 “there is a correlation between increased teen exposure to anti-drug messages on television and a decreased likelihood of trying drugs over the past ten years. Four out of ten teens agreed that anti-drug messages made them more aware of the risks of using drugs and less likely to try the drugs (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010). In one of the many advertisement the campaign has produce, The Human Puppet the advertisement depicts a girl is passed out on a chair with her friends gathered around her, they are painting her face and have strapped her arms with scarves and are moving her hands as she is a puppet. The girl is in an unconscious state and never reacts to what her friends are doing to her they make reference to the fact that she is passed out and “thrashed” and that she will have a major headache in the morning.

Eventually they walk away from her, leaving her slumped in the chair (The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, 2009).This was an excellent advertisement, and depicted the reality of what can happen when you consume alcohol as a teenager and the embarrassing situations that you place yourself in. The advertisement also pointed out the reality of what your friends can and will do to you when you passed out from alcohol use. The one weakness that was noted in this advertisement was that some kids may think that it was more humorous than educational. There should have been more depiction of what can happen when a kid drinks too much alcohol such as loss of body function or alcohol related illnesses. Overall these campaigns have been shown to work The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign began in July 1998 and its primary focus was on reducing marijuana use among adolescents. The data collected from the beginning of PATS in 1998 compared to the data collected in 2008 shows that the use of the media campaign has significantly increased the teen awareness and decreased the use of marijuana in teens (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010).

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The policies that are in place to deal with the portrayal of drug addiction are planned through The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the primary function of this office is “to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation’s drug control program. The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences” (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2010). The policies that have been established for drug addiction are the following that were obtained from the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation:

  • Americans For Safe Access (ASA) – an aggressive grassroots campaign working to push the Bush administration off its anti-medical marijuana crusade and allow states the right to choose and govern medical marijuana laws.
  • Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP) – a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding discussion on drug policy and raising questions about existing law and educating the public about alternatives to current policies.
  • Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (CJPF) – a non-profit foundation working on innovative solutions to problems facing the criminal justice system.
  • Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) – the nation’s leading organization working to end the war on drugs.
  • Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet) – opposes the prison-building frenzy and supports rational policies consistent with the principles of peace, justice, freedom, compassion and truth.
  • Human Rights and the Drug War – a multi-media project that combines the stories and photos of Drug War POWs with facts and figures about the US Drug War, to confront the conscience of the American people and encourage individuals to take action for social justice.
  • Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) – a progressive think-tank with a project on U.S. drug policy and U.S. involvement in Colombia.
  • Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative (IDPI) – organizes people of faith to promote drug policy reform; i.e., moving from prohibition laws toward reasonable and compassionate drug regulation, education and treatment.
  • Judges Against the Drug War – provides an “extensive online database of judicial opinions critical of the government’s War on Drugs.” The database represents “judicial dissent against drug prohibition” in state and federal jurisdictions from 1970 to the present date.
  • Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) – current and former members of law enforcement who support drug regulation rather than prohibition.
  • Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) – works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana — both the consumption of marijuana, and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use.
  • Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) – non-profit research and educational organization that assists scientific study of the risks and benefits of MDMA, psychedelic drugs and marijuana.
  • National Drug Strategies Network (NDSN) – coalition of organizations that offer information about drug control strategies.
  • National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) – a nonprofit public-interest advocacy group that represents the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly.
  • Parents Ending Prohibition – Parents Ending Prohibition is a non-profit organization, designed to bring together parents and other concerned citizens to protect our children from the devastating harms created by our nation’s “war on marijuana.”
  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) – working to involve youth in the political process, and promoting an open, honest, and rational discussion of alternative solutions to our nation’s drug problems.
  • Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform (UUDPR) – a continental coalition of Unitarian Universalists leading the denomination’s efforts to develop and promote more just and compassionate drug policies” (Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, 2010)

In addition to these policies The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable (The Federal Communications Commission, 2009). The division of the FCC that administers policies and license is the Media Bureau. This office controls what is viewed on television and although there are some limitations due to the First Amendment Act. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is another office that regulates how drugs are portrayed on television. The FDA monitors how pharmaceutical companies advertised their drugs on television. Pharmaceutical companies are allowed to claim the benefits of their product but they must also provide a website or referenced publications where consumers can find out more details regarding the products (Mosher & Akins, 2007, p. 345). In 1994 The Dietary Supplemental Health and Education Act was passed, this act established policies on the sale and advertisement of dietary aides on television.

The influence that television has on our youth today is overwhelming and it is important that use of drugs, whether legal or illegal are monitored and regulated. The government as well as parents and guardians have a responsibility towards our future generation and it is important that we influence our children in the right direction.


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