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How Euphoria is Changing The Conversation Around the Struggles of Today’s Youth

When Euphoria hit HBO in 2019, it changed a lot of lives. This wasn’t simply another teen TV drama. We meet Rue, a 17-year old fresh out of treatment after an almost fatal overdose before summer. Throughout the show, we watch her navigate her drug addiction, depression, anxiety and fall in love with her best friend. Euphoria is triggering, jaw dropping, uncomfortable, and a truly cinematic experience. Euphoria is, at its core, raw and real; touching on the most poignant truths of what it means to struggle with drugs, sex, sexuality and mental health throughout your adolescence.

Euphoria at first glance may seem shocking. Rue’s world includes a 10-year old drug dealer, an enchanting best friend who is transgender, an extremely aggressive jock who abuses his popular girlfriend, who sports crazy makeup and rhinestones on a daily basis with her friends. There’s tons of nudity, drugs, sex, and heart wrenching back stories. It’s a lot to process, with a camera that never stops moving, and set to a truly fantastic, original score.

At first glance, Euphoria doesn’t seem very realistic. Set inside an undisclosed town, with almost no parental involvement- the show moves fast. For those who had a more cookie cutter high school experience, things may feel exaggerated. It also might terrify some parents. But Euphoria manages to tap into the reality of numerous issues with a startling amount of truth. I’ve never seen a show so accurately convey the experience of addiction, depression, mental health and sexuality both in it’s writing and the raw emotion it elicits from the viewer thanks to the filming and music.

The show is so easy to connect to because the story lines are diverse and based on true experiences. The creator, Sam Levinson, struggled with abuse, depression and anxiety, which he channeled into Euphoria. The writing and characters are also collaborative. He based the story lines for Hunter Schafer’s character, Jules, a transgender girl, and Barbie Fereirra’s character, Kat, a plus-size girl, on their real experiences growing up. The cast, while all over eighteen, is incredibly young. The energy, improvisation and input they bring to the show is invaluable.

Euphoria’s exploration of addiction and mental health is one of its biggest strengths. The show’s main protagonist, Rue, is an entirely unreliable narrator. Her narration throughout the show though, is what deeply connects you to the characters. Her powerful description of her anxiety, depression, grief, and the drugs that make it possible for her to get through each day, is what gives heart and truth to her character. It’s also what makes it possible to show her onscreen drug use without it being glamorized. Instead, it becomes the sad, and heartbreaking reality that it is.

The attention to detail is what allows Euphoria’s portrayal of drugs and drinking to connect with the viewer. It’s also what allows us to clearly see the difference between experimentation and abuse. The times someone goes too far and embarrasses themselves versus the time someone goes too far and ends up almost dead. There is not a scene involving drug or alcohol use on the show without an emotional connection and lesson being conveyed. This in my opinion, is what allows Euphoria to tackle drug abuse head on instead of glossing over it.

Another strong point for Euphoria is its incredibly nuanced look at navigating sex and sexuality in today’s world. One of the most important and refreshing parts of the show is Jules. The innocence and vulnerability of her and Rue’s relationship, paired with the scenes where Jules hooks up in a motel room with an older man, and the conversations she has with men online, is powerful. The recently released self titled episode, Jules, shows her deconstructing femininity and love with her therapist. It gives us a compassionate and honest insight into the trials of navigating your sexuality. Euphoria isn’t afraid to go into the universal struggles of sexuality, while also refreshingly looking at the specific struggles that depend on how you identify.

Euphoria also dives into toxic masculinity, with the male characters visibly broken under the pressure and determination to conform to the powerful alpha male ideal. The show constantly explores the contradictions of today’s female sexuality: a new era where nudes are pretty much expected but women are still slut shamed for them, and girls are still trying not to be defined by their bodies.

Euphoria is not exactly sex positive. While sex and sexuality are a constant theme in the show, basically no character seems ready or prepared to be having it. While some may critique the focus on sex, I commend it. As a teenager, it’s incredibly hard to find true power in your sexuality. I think the way they choose to portray sex, for a very diverse range of characters, creates space for a real conversation regarding the reality of sex and relationships today.

While most of the themes in Euphoria are universal, it specifically taps into what it’s like to grow up today. It dives into the things those of us who aren’t Gen-Z won’t understand- like being born during 9/11, having the responsibility of climate change loom over you as a kid, navigating social media and technology since birth, and having active shooter drills be a part of your school day. Euphoria also doesn’t shy away from technology- porn hub, Grindr, leaked nudes, dick pics-  they are seamlessly and unapologetically weaved into the story line.

I’m in my twenties, and watching Euphoria was like getting a front row seat to what my friends and I experienced in highschool. I wonder what it would have felt like to have a show like this on when I was in high school- I think it would have felt pretty good. Euphoria is able to highlight the struggles of adolescence without glorifying or shaming them. It’s not glamorizing what it’s like to be a full blown drug addict at sixteen or to try out camming on Porn Hub. By exploring the most private, vulnerable, challenging parts of adolescence, the things we could never talk to our parents about, in depth, makes you feel seen and accepted. Having a major HBO show, starring some of the coolest young actors today, exploring your struggles, can make you feel not alone.

Call To Action

  • Watch Euphoria on HBO Max.
  • Further educate yourself on mental health, addiction and sexuality.
  • Be an advocate for those struggling.
  • Support youth mentorship and empowerment programs.

–Alicia Briggs, Content Creator

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