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The media’s portrayal of addiction: is it helpful or not?

The media’s portrayal of addiction has more often than not given us a stereotypical image of ‘low life’ addicts. To further compound the issue, it’s also not uncommon for the polar opposite to happen, whereby drug and alcohol abuse is glamorised. So Port of Call asks whether the media’s portrayal of addiction is helpful or not?

The flipside of the demonisation of addiction, that we so often see in the UK press, is the glamorisation of substance abuse that Hollywood has conveyed over the years. Shows like Breaking Bad that, although graphically highlighted the destructive effects of crystal meth addiction, also ‘normalised’ this underworld to a certain extent.

Is it all negative though? Not entirely, as you’ll see. Read on for the case in favour, and the case against, the helpfulness of the media’s portrayal of addiction.

The Media's portrayal of addiction

Addiction – The case in favour

It isn’t often that the media comes in for praise, particularly in terms of their portrayal of addiction. However, one such glowing endorsement emerged recently from Hollyoaks actress, Jessica Fox, who has praised the long-running soap for their sympathetic portrayal of her character’s painkiller addiction.

Fox’s on-screen character, Nancy Osborne, was given a plot line, by the Channel 4 shows producers that saw her battle her addiction. In a refreshingly realistic plot twist, Nancy has been shown to relapse – a move that Fox herself has applauded for its sincerity and authenticity.

Speaking to the Bolton News, she said: “I think revisiting Nancy’s story is the correct thing to do. Addiction is something that people battle their entire lives – you don’t just get over it. But we’ve also revisited it in a really responsible way.”

Addiction – The case against

According to one TIME article, written by assistant district attorney, Blake Ewing, the portrayal of crystal meth addiction in popular American drama, Breaking Bad, may have had a negative influence by opening the eyes of the middle classes to an otherwise unknown world.

“While Breaking Bad may not glorify meth in the sense of making it attractive to the average viewer, it does normalize the idea of meth for a broad segment of society that might otherwise have no knowledge of that dark and dangerous world,” Ewing argues.

“Before Breaking Bad, relatively few people knew someone whose life had been touched by meth, but now millions more people have an intense emotional connection with at least two: Walter White and Jesse Pinkman,” according to Ewing. And suddenly, for those spellbound viewers, the idea of people using meth is a little less foreign, a little more familiar. And that false sense of familiarity is inherently dangerous.”

Port of Call’s conclusion to the media’s portrayal of addiction

Martin Preston, founder of Port of Call, expressed mixed feelings about the media’s portrayal of addiction but welcomed the fact that there is a far more open public debate about the issue at least. “Of course, the perceived glamorisation of drug addiction – for example in popular films like Pulp Fiction and Blow – can give a false picture of the negative, and often harmful, effects of addiction,” he said.

“That is of course a real concern, particularly when we are seeing young, impressionable addicts accessing our services. However, we applaud the responsible campaign seen recently on Hollyoaks, which has shone the spotlight on the particularly complicated, and growing, problem of painkiller addiction.”

Martin added: “When done correctly, an open and transparent debate around the topic of addiction has to be preferable to sweeping the issue under the carpet and leaving it unspoken.”

What do you think? We’d love to hear from you.

If you require any further information about addiction, please contact Port of Call for free, confidential advice on how to find a drug rehab facility to help you beat your addiction, on 08000029010.

About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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