HBO’s Euphoria takes an honest and brutally blunt look at problems in high schools today: drugs, depression, sexting, mental health, social media and teen addiction.
The teen drama follows a group of high school students who are all trying to find their way in the world. Rue, played by Zendaya, is Euphoria’s main character. “I was once happy, content,” she says in the beginning moments. “Then one day, for reasons beyond my control, I was repeatedly crushed over and over by the cruel cervix of my mother Leslie. I put up a good fight, but I lost. For the first time, but not the last.”
We quickly learn that she was born just three days after 9/11, an event she seemingly links with where her unhappiness started. Her parents tell her about how they watched the news in the hospital, feeling the burden of the lives lost that day. As the news showed the towers falling on a repeating loop, “feelings of grief gave way to numbness.” This numbness is something Rue feels may have seeped into her.
We learn she grew up in a middle-class, suburban home with a loving family. She was never in a traumatic event, and her needs were met as she was growing up. At a young age, however, she was diagnosed with a long list of mental health disorders: OCD, ADD, general anxiety disorder and possibly bipolar disorder.
With all the medication for her mental health, she doesn’t remember much from her childhood except that life moved fast and her brain moved slow. She decides to stop taking her pills and instead flushes them down the toilet and takes her dad’s Xanax. From there, her drug use escalates. She spends a good portion of the summer before junior year in rehab, though she has no intention of staying clean after she gets out.
Her struggles with mental health — and using drugs as an escape — aren’t rare, especially among Gen Zers. HBO’s Euphoria takes a deep dive into teen drug use, mental health and how the two often go hand in hand.
A New Generation
Euphoria focuses on teens, born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, who belong to Generation Z. Though Rue’s belief that the beginning of her unhappiness is linked with 9/11 may seem far-fetched, there is evidence to support her ideology. The American Psychological Association recently completed a study that found that teens are significantly more stressed about things like gun violence, immigration deportation, sexual assault, climate change and income inequality than any other generation.
Though these are issues most people care and become stressed about, Generation Z is most likely to feel their impact. Teen mental health is suffering as a result.
Gen Z is also more likely to report that they don’t have good mental health. 27% of Gen Zers say their mental health is only fair or poor, compared to 13% of Millennials and just 7% of Baby Boomers. Of Gen Z adults (ages 18 to 21), 58% reported feeling depressed and 54% reported feeling nervous or anxious.
The problems of Generation Z make them find ways to alleviate the symptoms that come with mental health issues. Unfortunately, some turn to drugs and fall victim to teen addiction, including Rue. She doesn’t do drugs because she succumbed to peer pressure or wants to appear cool — she’s trying to escape her anxiety and depression.
The Show That Gets It Right
What’s most notable about HBO’s Euphoria isn’t just its ability to resonate with a generation. It’s notable for its brutally blunt but delicate depiction of depression, teen drug misuse and the causes of drug addiction.
When it comes to media and teens, TV shows and movies often glamorize addiction and drug use. That’s one thing creator Sam Levinson was wary of, especially when the show is targeted toward a young and impressionable audience. After recovering from a substance use disorder himself, Levinson wanted to realistically capture what addiction and drug misuse is truly like.
“If we’re pulling our punches and we’re not showing the relief that drugs can bring, it starts to lose its impact,” Levinson said. Though drugs can bring relief and seem like a solution, they also bring destruction. That’s what makes them so dangerous, and that’s what Euphoria gets so refreshingly right: the devastating, life-threatening effects of drug abuse on teens.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health condition, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact us today to learn about treatment options that can work well for your situation.
American Psychological Association. “Stress in America: Generation Z.” October 2018. Accessed June 30, 2019.
Thomas, Kaitlin. “Zendaya Discusses the Importance of HBO’s Boundary-Pushing Teen Drama Euphoria.” TV Guide, June 7, 2019. Accessed June 30, 2019.