Euphoria: The fine line between raising awareness and glorification


Graphic illustration by Elizabeth Cheng and Lina Mezerreg

Euphoria raises awareness for drugs, sex, violence and mental health.

Elizabeth Cheng and Katie Chin

Note: This story contains references to content that may be triggering for those who have experienced trauma or are sensitive to topics concerning sexual violence, self-harm or mental illness.

With iconic characters and amazing cinematography, HBO’s hit show “Euphoria” has increased in popularity, especially among teens, following its Season 2 release. The show, which stars struggling drug addict Rue, played by Zendaya, is often characterized by its excessive portrayals of sex, drugs, violence and abuse. Zendaya herself warned fans before the start of both seasons that the show is reserved for mature audiences, and its content can be triggering. For young or less mature audiences, Euphoria can glorify unhealthy behavior. But for viewers with a mature mental state, Euphoria provides newfound perspectives on stigmatized issues by humanizing drug addicts, highlighting prevalent mental health issues and raising awareness for domestic violence and sex work.


Humanizing drug addicts and dealers

Director Sam Levinson based much of the show on his own experiences with drug abuse to inspire empathy for drug addicts. However, Euphoria’s trademark colorful and glittery interpretation of drug use has come under great scrutiny. Although Euphoria’s portrayals of addiction can mislead and entice viewers to mimic the behaviors, the show breaks stereotypes by humanizing both drug addicts and dealers. It also depicts drug addiction’s wide range of consequences, which in turn, discourages drug abuse.

Euphoria challenges stereotypes about drugs that are usually misrepresented in the media, such as the idea that drug abusers are simply reckless and lack self-control or that drug dealers have no sense of morality. Rue’s addiction stems from trying to cope with her anxiety. Fezco, Rue’s drug dealer, shows genuine affection when he chooses not to sell drugs to her. While drug dealing is often unethical and dangerous, Fezco’s choice to protect Rue’s well-being by denying her the drugs, despite his ability to profit from the transaction, breaks the stereotype that all drug dealers are immoral people.

“When you think of a drug dealer, you usually think of someone who’s really dangerous, but Fez is a good-hearted guy,” junior Navya Anand said. “It encouraged me to think more about why someone might be engaging in the drug industry.”

The experiences of Euphoria’s characters effectively portray addiction’s heavy consequences. While Season 1 includes scenes where drugs are characterized as a happy escape with few negative consequences, Season 2 emphasizes the widespread destruction addiction can cause. In Season 2, viewers see Rue suffer from withdrawal effects as she first flees rehab and then an intervention. Her addiction is so severe that she then burglarizes a house for drugs. Afterward, Rue can barely talk properly or sit up straight due to her withdrawal, displaying the crippling effects of drug abuse. The discouraging tone that Euphoria conveys when depicting drug abuse, especially during Season 2, positively influences viewers to avoid similar mistakes that characters make in the show.

If you’re younger and more impressionable, or maybe not in a great mental state, the normalization of certain things in Euphoria, like drug abuse, can be problematic because you’re going to begin to think such behavior is normal.

— Navya Anand, Junior

However, the show portrays characters being high using bright colors and glitter, and while in line with the aesthetic sensibilities of the rest of the show, it can still be misleading, especially for audiences who are not mature enough to watch the show or who are already considering drugs as a coping mechanism. Whether Euphoria helps raise awareness and empathy or encourages unhealthy behavior through glorification depends greatly on the viewer’s maturity and mental state.

“If you’re younger and more impressionable, or maybe not in a great mental state, the normalization of certain things in Euphoria, like drug abuse, can be problematic because you’re going to begin to think such behavior is normal,” Anand said.


Destigmatizing sex work

Euphoria, known for its excessive, explicit sexual content, has been criticized by concerned parents and adults for intentionally marketing graphic content to impressionable teens. The series faces the age-old controversy of oversexualizing women through the male gaze. It primarily focuses on the sexual aspects of teenage girls, as Euphoria’s female characters are often dressed in revealing clothing or shown completely nude. Despite the seemingly bawdy nature of the show, many argue that Euphoria destigmatizes sex and sex work, a considerably taboo topic.

“I think the show normalizes sex because it’s so casual and it happens a lot,” sophomore Briana Nguyen said. “But I also think there’s some nudity that was uncalled for.”

Through camming, a form of digital sex work, Kat comes to love herself and her body, taking ownership of her sexuality. By finding strength and confidence through her endeavors, she helps shed the societal stereotypes surrounding similar work. Kat’s experimentation with sex work reflects the challenge teenagers face in finding their individuality.

“Teenagers try on lots of different identities throughout adolescence to try and figure out who they are and what feels right,” school psychologist Brittany Stevens said.

Euphoria’s depiction of relationships also alleviates stereotypes surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. As the community finds more representation on screen, Euphoria emphasizes the struggles those within the community face. Jules, a young trans woman, grapples with her femininity, while Cal and Nate Jacobs both struggle with accepting their sexuality. The show offers a sober and realistic representation of the depths and consequences of homophobia in society by shining a light on the harsh realities that the LGBTQ+ community faces, which can inspire audiences to commit to creating a more educated, mature environment for youth in their own lives.


Validating mental health and domestic violence

Most episodes of Euphoria are preceded by a disclaimer and phone number from the National Alliance of Mental Health, which warns audiences that certain scenes may be graphic or triggering. Scenes include characters struggling with mental illness, such as Jules cutting herself with an empty can or Rue’s panic attacks at the dinner table. Despite the inclusion of these potentially triggering scenes, Euphoria’s emphasis on its character’s mental health issues and their effects emphasizes seeking help and prioritizing mental well-being.

Characters’ use of drugs to cope with anxiety and depression, especially by Rue, further displays the severity of mental illness and why it must be treated. In a world where people battling depression are often seen as lazy or those who are fighting anxiety disorders are viewed as weak, Euphoria demonstrates how these mental illnesses are as real and valid as physical ones.

Though adorned with dazzling visuals and a vivid soundtrack, Euphoria’s glamor is often darkened by frighteningly violent scenes. While again not appropriate for young audiences, Euphoria brings awareness to domestic and intimate partner violence. Maddy, who is involved in an abusive relationship with Nate, grapples with the consequences of his violence and struggles to cope in an unhealthy relationship, scared and refusing to turn Nate into the police after he physically assaults her. Alexa Demie, who plays Maddy, has spoken out on Euphoria’s portrayal of abuse, defending Euphoria for its positive steps toward raising awareness for domestic violence. By highlighting the consequences of toxic relationships and illustrating the presence of abuse in teen relationships, Euphoria educates teens about the false sense of normalcy and loyalty developed through them.

“There is domestic abuse and partner violence that happens at the high school level,” Stevens said. “If a show is choosing to portray it, they’re choosing to portray something that people really do experience.”



Euphoria’s controversial nature has raised questions about whether the show fosters  awareness for mental health issues and the stigmatization of sex and drugs or glorifies unhealthy behavior. Through the show, mature audiences can learn from the consequences of characters’ mistakes, such as the widespread destruction of drug addiction or the severity of mental illness. Nevertheless, the show may still normalize harmful behavior for the more impressionable and less mature, so it is important to take caution and ensure a mature and safe mental space before watching the show.