How Is Alcohol and Drug Use Glorified in Society?

Alcohol and drug use have been depicted in the media for as long as media has existed. The majority of these depictions have painted substance use in a positive light. For example, when movie characters are seen using alcohol and other drugs, feelings of relief, pleasure, and euphoria are often emphasized. Meanwhile, substance use’s consequences and lasting effects are often left in the shadows.

The Marketing of Alcohol and Drug Use

While glorifying substance use in society is not new, it is becoming increasingly problematic. Individuals, both young and old, may view favorable marketing ads and film depictions of drug use as fact. Many companies are using subliminal advertising that places images of drugs and alcohol into popular media without making it the focus. This engages with the viewer subconsciously, priming them for favorable opinions on substances. Additionally, companies are frequently targeting the ads to vulnerable communities. You’ll see these predatory marketing techniques come into play as we discuss alcohol and drug use in the media. It is more important than ever to acknowledge the impact of glorified alcohol and drug use in society.

Alcohol and Drug Use in the Media

Society is becoming increasingly reliant on technology. For many, technology is a necessary part of daily life. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 92% of all U.S. households had a computer, and 85% had an active internet subscription in 2018. In this survey, desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones were also considered computers.

For individuals who use technology, it is only a matter of time before they are exposed to problematic substance use depictions and marketing. Alcohol and drug use are portrayed in all forms of media, including movies, the news, podcasts, songs, social media, and video games. More often than not, these depictions are inaccurate and misleading. As a result, viewers may become curious about the effects of alcohol and other drugs. They may even feel tempted to use these substances themselves.


In the media, alcohol is commonly depicted and often glorified. According to a publication by the National Academy of Sciences, a research analysis from 1999 indicated that nearly 71% of all media programming portrayed alcohol use, with 77% referencing alcohol in one way or another. It is essential to point out that these statistics were from nearly two decades ago. We can only speculate that these numbers have increased as technology has become more prominent and widely used.

The normalization of alcohol use in the media can cause young viewers to wish they were of drinking age. Whether individuals watch their favorite movie characters drinking or see an advertisement about alcohol on television, alcohol use in media can enable individuals to emulate the behavior.

Additionally, the study above explains the impact of user-generated alcohol content on social media, stating, “Several studies have illustrated that adolescents’ displays on social media frequently include the portrayal of health-risk behaviors related to alcohol, other substances, and sexual behaviors.” When individuals see their older family members, peers, and other acquaintances drinking online, they may feel pressured to engage in such behaviors to feel more mature and cooler.

However, these depictions rarely ever shed light on the potential health consequences of alcohol use. Although alcohol is widely used, its consequences on one’s life can outweigh its potential benefits. Therefore, it is vital to understand that these inaccurate depictions are concerning and often contribute to the development of addiction and other forms of substance abuse.

Nicotine, Tobacco, and Marijuana

Portrayals of nicotine and tobacco use are often just as common as alcohol use within the media. According to Current Addiction Reports, the tobacco and alcohol industries have long targeted youth. These industries do so:

…[I]n the form of paid placements of products in films, television, and video games that are popular among youth, sponsorship of sporting events and concerts, and colorful packaging. Moreover, youth are high consumers of entertainment media, and they are highly susceptible to media influence due to preoccupation with personal image and identity that makes them more likely to identify with and model what they view.

Such marketing influences paint smoking content as glamorous, rebellious, romantic, mature, and celebratory, leaving health consequences in the shadows.

It is also essential to look at newer drug-related products in the media. In the last several years, e-cigarettes and vapes have become increasingly popular for the use of both nicotine and marijuana. These devices are often marketed as “safer” than traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes. However, these devices are only marketed that way because their long-term health effects are unknown. Recent studies have only begun to address the damaging health effects of vaping and smoking.

Illicit Drugs

Unfortunately, illicit drug use is a global health problem. The opioid epidemic has contributed to a devastating number of overdose deaths worldwide. Still, illicit drug use is often glorified in the media. In addition to opioids, commonly depicted illicit drugs include stimulants, club drugs, dissociatives, and hallucinogenic drugs. Similar to the trends of smoking culture, illicit drug use may be portrayed in problematic ways.

In the media, illicit drug use may also attempt to portray individuals with substance use disorder (SUD). Even then, these depictions are misleading, often perpetuating stigma and judgment for those with addiction. If they aren’t villainized, the people with SUD are romanticized.

It is vital to differentiate misleading information from what is factual. Usually, it is safer to assume that media depictions are inaccurate. But, if anything, these depictions should be used as motivators to become educated about alcohol and drug use and its lasting effects.

Alcohol and drug use are commonly misrepresented and glorified in society. Becoming aware of these inaccurate depictions can be vital for your healing throughout recovery. 12 South Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment facility that understands your challenges during treatment and recovery. We prioritize a client-centered philosophy of caring, ensuring that each client can address and overcome the underlying factors of their symptoms for lasting healing. We’ll also prepare you to handle triggers like the depiction of substances in the media. If you are struggling with substance abuse or mental illness symptoms, we offer several services that can help you heal. Give us a call today at 866-839-6876.

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