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Is HBO’s “Euphoria” Helpful or Harmful to Its Young Audience?

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

“Euphoria” is currently one of the most popular series among Gen Z, as millions of people log in to HBO every Sunday night at 9 to watch the newest episode of Season 2; Episode 4 had an estimated 3.2 million viewers at its premiere last Sunday, and even more are anticipated for this week’s episode. But how are these 3.2 million people being influenced by the show?

“Euphoria” is popular primarily among teens and young adults who admire its beautiful cinematography, costumes, and makeup, as well as its exciting plot, complex characters, and talented, attractive actors. However, the show is controversial for many reasons, including its depictions of drug use and violence, its use of profane and offensive language (such as the word r*tarded), and especially its shockingly pornographic depictions of underage characters (though they are portrayed by adult actors). Much of the criticism stems from the fact that even though the series is rated TV-MA for obvious reasons, it is still marketed toward teenagers as a high school drama.

For younger viewers struggling in their academic or personal lives, watching “Euphoria” can have advantages or disadvantages depending on their own life experiences. For example, a person who has recently lost a loved one might find comfort and visibility in Rue, the show’s protagonist who is struggling with the loss of her dad. However, a person recovering from addiction might find the same character extremely triggering, as she frequently uses drugs to cope with her emotions, and her highs are depicted as euphoric and even beautiful.

Toxic relationships abound in the show as well, including the abusive Nate with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Maddy, as well as Rue and her girlfriend Jules, who is repeatedly unfaithful and had previously pressured her into running away from home. Kat, seemingly the only character with a supportive, loving partner, finds herself repulsed by her boyfriend Ethan for reasons even she does not know, suggesting to the audience that healthy relationships are boring and unfulfilling. This could potentially give inexperienced viewers the idea that toxic relationships are more desirable and exciting than healthy ones, despite the abuse and trauma they cause.

What parents of teens fear is that “Euphoria” is not just encouraging fashion trends, but also reckless lifestyle habits like having unsafe sex, drinking and partying constantly, doing drugs, and more poor life choices. Many teenagers have recently taken to Twitter and TikTok to admit they felt tempted to relapse on drugs or engage in otherwise unsafe behavior like that of “Euphoria’s” characters. However, others replied that those who may be triggered by the show’s content should simply not watch it so others can continue to enjoy it.

On Jan 26 of this year, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.) openly accused “Euphoria” of “glorifying” drug abuse in a statement to TMZ: “Rather than further each parent’s desire to keep their children safe from the potentially horrific consequences of drug abuse and other high-risk behavior, HBO’s television drama, ‘Euphoria,’ chooses to misguidedly glorify and erroneously depict high school student drug use, addiction, anonymous sex, violence, and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world.” The representative went on to express disappointment in HBO for producing and promoting a show that could potentially misguide vulnerable teens, especially those with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

If you are considering watching “Euphoria” for the first time, take care to consider your personal triggers and read the content warning before each episode.

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