Teenage drug and alcohol use in America is on the rise. This use of drugs and alcohol is dangerous and needs to be put to an end. But what factors influence teenagers to start using? Is it family issues? Peer Pressure? Or is it the constant parade of celebrity “role models” going in and out of rehab or the enormous amount of drug and alcohol references found on television and in music lyrics? Many celebrities, like musical artists, actors and actresses, and sports stars, are seen as role models, but the celebrity abuse of drugs and alcohol, appalling behavior while under the influence, continuous referencing to using in music lyrics and on television shows, and frequent trips to rehab influences teenagers to also participate in the act.
According to the National Survey Results of Drug Use performed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there has been a significant increase in drug and alcohol use among American Teenagers. The Monitoring the Future Survey studied 8th, 10th, and 12th graders over a period of time, which gives specific statistics to show the increase in drug and alcohol use. In 1991, 6% of 8th graders were frequent users of marijuana, and which number increased to 18% in 1996. 10th grade had an enormous increase from 15% in 1992 to 35% in 1997. The 12th graders also experienced an increase from 22% in 1992 to 39% in 1997. Daily users of marijuana underwent an increase as well. From 1992 to 1996, daily users of marijuana in the 8th grade increased from 0.2% to 1.1%. There was an increase in daily users in 10th and 12th graders as well. 10th grade experienced an increase from 0.8% in 1992 to 3.7% in 1996. 12th graders increased from 1.9% in 1992 to 5.8% in 1996 (Johnston, O’Malley, and Bachman n.p.).
There was not just an increase in marijuana use, but also an increase in other illicit drugs, such as ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, and heroin, and alcohol consumption. The National Survey Results of Drug Use shows that there was an increase in ecstasy use from 3% in 2005 to 4.3% in 2010 among 12th grades, and a rise from 2.3% in 2004 to 4.6% in 2010 among 10th graders (Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman, and Schulenberg n.p.). There was an increase in teenage drinking from 1991 to 1998 from 70% to 75% (Johnston, O’Malley, and Bachman n.p.). Alcohol is a big deal because it is used more than marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other pills. With the increasing number of teenage drinking, there is an increase in the dangerous consequences.
According to Nina Riccio, drinking is destructive to teens and it is usually one factor in the three leading causes of death in young adults: accidents, suicide, and homicide. 20% of car accident deaths ages 15 to 20 were killed in drunk driving, 37% of 8th-grade girls who drink heavily have attempted suicide, 50% of teenagers that drink heavily have been in a physical fight and 16% have carried a weapon (59).
The factors of the increase in drug and alcohol use have been debated heavily, some say it’s family issues or peer pressure, but it is very possible that the influence comes from society, the media, and celebrity influences. Today’s headlines concerning celebrities usually deal with their most recent drug or alcohol abuse issue, rather than discussing the celebrities that do good and charitable work. The media focuses on the negative aspects and flaws of celebrities; they want to show the celebrity at their worst rather than their best. There has been a colossal amount of celebrities getting into legal trouble because of their behavior on drugs or under the influence of alcohol.
The most recent display of the media being fascinated with the downfall of a celebrity is the Charlie Sheen story. On January 27, Charlie Sheen was rushed to the hospital with severe abdominal pains. According to Hollie McKay of Fox News, Charlie Sheen had a “briefcase full of cocaine” at his house and he used large amounts over a 36-hour period of time. Along with the “briefcase full of cocaine,” Sheen partied with two porn stars and other various women (n.p.).
Sheen’s incident led to an out-of-control downward spiral, he was removed from the popular show “Two and a Half Men” and has been seen in the media nearly every day since the incident.
The media’s concentration on Sheen’s actions could be the reason why teenagers believe it is okay to do illegal drugs. If a famous actor like Charlie Sheen can do it, why can’t teenagers? If the media would focus more on the celebrities doing good and bettering their community teenagers may have better role models, but since all attention goes towards the negative how are teenagers supposed to know who is a good role model?
Although Charlie Sheen did not overdose there has been a large number of celebrities’ death caused by drug overdoses or alcohol-related issues. The list of celebrity drug-induced deaths includes John Belushi from Saturday Night Live, Hillel Slovak, the guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday, the famous jazz singer, Ken Caminiti, a baseball star, Anna Nichole Smith, Chris Farley, another Saturday Night Live star, Elvis Presley, Len Bias, the basketball star, Jimi Hendrix, Judy Garland, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and John Bonham, the drummer in the band Led Zeppelin, and the most recent Heath Leger (Top 20 Drug-Induced Celebrity Deaths n.p.). Many of these celebrities’ were looked up to during their time and their deaths show the horrible side effects of drug addiction. In 2007, there were 27,658 reported cases of drug overdose deaths, mostly caused by opioids, cocaine, and heroin (Kluger 6). Celebrity addicts are on the brink of overdosing and ending their own lives too soon. The list of known celebrity addicts and those who have entered rehab for drug or alcohol abuse contains over 170 celebrities (Famous Celebrity Addicts n.p.). The list includes actors, actresses, artists, models, and sports stars. Over 40 celebrities have entered rehab within the last year for either substance abuse or alcohol abuse; these celebrities range from long-time users, like Charlie Sheen, to in and out-of-rehab stars, like Lindsey Lohan, to first-time teen stars, like Demi Lovato. With teenagers’ “role models” being in and out of rehab so frequently, it is no wonder why teenagers believe their actions are acceptable and it is okay to also participate in the act.
Along with the media focusing on celebrity drug and alcohol abuse and the increased number of celebrity addicts and drug-induced deaths, recent studies show that there has been a significant increase in drug and alcohol references in music lyrics and in television shows. Rap and hip-hop is not the only musical genre to being using these references, they can be seen in rock and country, as well. Musical artists, Lil Wayne, Drake, and Wiz Khalifa, are by far the best examples of drug and alcohol references in their lyrics. Musical artists have the most influence over teenagers because music is heard everywhere. Teenagers may think the lyrics in the song are acceptable since the song is played on public radio and accepted by society; however, the actions portrayed in the song are not acceptable to teenagers.
In a study by Denise Herd from the University of Public Health at the University of California, it was concluded that from 1979 to 1984 only 8% of songs contained references to alcohol. From 1985 to 1989 it increased to 14%, from 1990 to 1993 it further increased to 34%, and from 1994 to 1997 it went to 44% of songs containing alcohol references (1263). Nearly half of the songs in 1997 contained a reference to alcohol consumption, and that was 14 years ago. It has increased even more since then; you can see this increase by simply looking at the lyrics of some of today’s popular songs. This can be seen in “On My Level” by Wiz Khalifa:
It’s the champagne pourin’ / Big joint rollin’ / Bombay sippin’ / No blunt smoking . . . I take ‘em out pourin’ shots of liquor / Drinkin’ out the bottle smiling in all my pictures. . . See after drinking champagne all night / Never worry bout a damn thing y’all might / Homie I’m on my level. . . Cocaine mushrooms ecstasy GHB Marijuana. . . I got tequila Ciroc
It can also be seen in “Yeah 3x” by Chris Brown, “You like to drink, so do we / Get more bottles, bring ’em to me / Hold your glasses up, people everywhere”. And it is even more evident in “Shots” by LMFAO:
All drinks are free / We like Ciroc / We love patron / we came to party rock /Everybody it’s on / Let’s go / Shots (x16) . . . If you ain’t getting drunk get the f— out the club / If you ain’t takin shots get the f— out the club / If you ain’t come to party get the f— out the club / Now where my alcoholics let me see ya hands up / what you drink on? /Jaegerbombs / lemon drops / … Jello Shots / Kamikaze . . . Get me some Gin . . . Patron on the rocks and I’m ready for some shots. . . If you feeling drunk put ya hands in the air
With lyrics like these, it is no wonder that teenagers think the consumption of alcoholic beverages is acceptable. Lyrics like these are not only seen in rap and hip hop but also country and rock, as in songs like “Alcohol” by Brad Paisley, “Pretty Good At Drinkin’ Beer’ by Billy Currington, and “I Love This Bar” by Toby Keith.
Along with alcohol references, drug references are seen in numerous music lyrics in almost every genre. In another study performed by Denise Herd, it can be seen that there has been an increase in drug references. From 1979 to 1984 only 11% of songs contained drug references, from 1985 to 1989 it increased slightly to 19%, from 1990 to 1993 it had a drastic increase to 45%, and from 1994 to 1997 it spiked to 69% (171). Well over half of the songs studied contained drug references in the lyrics. With almost 7/10 of songs containing drug references, it can easily be assumed that this had some impact on the increase in drug use. That was about 14 years ago, the drug referencing in songs has increased since then.
An example of drug references today can be seen in the song “Because I Got High” by Afroman, “I was gonna go to class before I got high / I coulda cheated and I coulda passed but I got high / I am taking it next semester and I know why / cause I got high”. But it is not only seen in hip hop but also in classic rock songs, like “Cocaine” by Jackson Browne, which includes lyrics like “Now I’m losing touch with reality and I’m almost out of blow / It’s such a fine line– I hate to see it go / Cocaine, runnin’ all ’round my brain”.
Music is by far the most significant influence on American teenagers and with so many songs referencing alcohol and drugs it must be hard to ignore it. Teenagers look up to musical artists and if they are drinking and partying and doing drugs it must be the “cool” thing to do. Wiz Khalifa has his own “gang” called Taylor Gang, which is a lifestyle that consists of getting high off marijuana, drunk off alcohol, and getting Money. Teenagers wish to represent the TaylorGang lifestyle, because they are overpoweringly influenced by the music, and then participate in underage drinking and smoking marijuana. Teenagers believe this is acceptable because it is played on public radios and played as music videos on television. Parents have little or no control over what their teenagers listen to on the radio, which causes a dilemma in stopping inappropriate music lyrics.
Teenage alcohol and drug use are also influenced by celebrities in television shows, such as the Real World and Jersey Shore. In an episode that aired on January 17, 2011, in season 3 of Jersey Shore, Snooki (Nicole Polizzi), was arrested for being belligerently drunk on the beach.
While she was being escorted off the beach by the police, she fought back and resisted arrest. This is just one of many examples of the Jersey Shore cast’s appalling behavior while under the influence of alcohol. Every episode consists of drunken outrages and drunken hookups.
Jersey shore glorifies drunken behavior and partying. The large majority of its viewers are teenagers, and the teenagers try to impersonate the cast of Jersey Shore by mimicking their style, speech, and actions. Teenagers believe that their actions are more than acceptable and “cool”.
It can be determined by recent surveys and studies that celebrities have a large impact on American teenagers. Young teens see these celebrities as role models and believe that their actions are always appropriate. Teens are heavily influenced by music and television, so the constant reference to drugs and alcohol has led to the recent increase in teen drug and alcohol use. Celebrities should undergo stricter punishments when caught using illegal drugs, to show young teens that there are severe consequences. However, parents cannot control music or television, but parents can talk to their children about drug and alcohol use and the long-term effects it has on them.