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How Drugs Are Affecting American Pop Culture

Human Beings Have Always Been Fascinated With Mind-Altering Substances

Since the creation of man, human beings have sought to alter consciousness. Man’s quest for a heightened state of awareness has continued throughout the unfolding of the human story. Just look at the Garden of Eden story. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge because they wanted to enhance their minds. They wanted to be more intelligent, insightful, and creative. You may not accept this age-old account as gospel. Perhaps you think of it as a fairytale. In either case (whether literally or figuratively), it’s a pretty accurate representation of humankind’s continued yearning to find an escape hatch. One some level, we all want to flee from the ordinary world we find ourselves in. Perhaps this is best exemplified by our collective fascination with drug use, which now dominates pop culture in the United States. Music about Xanax, rappers using sizzurp, stoner flicks about marijuana, and movies about cocaine are driving the entertainment marketplace.

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A Very Brief History of Drug Use Around The Globe

Whether you know it or not, drugs like opium and weed have been intertwined with human history since the very beginning. You even could argue that there was some kind of intoxicant in the forbidden fruit. But, even if there wasn’t, evidence suggests mind-altering substances have been around forever. And, without a doubt, they have been highly influential in shaping life as we known it. You would be hard-pressed to find any habitable part of the world that is untouched by drug use. Even primitive cultures use drugs like DMT for their mind-expanding properties. But, this is nothing new. The Adam and Eve story aside, archaeological evidence suggests that people were taking magic mushrooms and opium as far back as 10,000 years ago. And, even the earliest written records show that drugs have been used for different purposes since 5000 B.C. These include religious ceremonies, medicine, and for no other purpose than to get a buzz.

Drugs Aren’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

Some substances have etched themselves on the hearts and minds of historians. These are mainstays in recorded history, appearing over and over. Alcohol and heroin are great examples. But, over the millennia, new drugs have been discovered and invented to give people immediate access to an altered reality. These include Molly, lean, and Adderall. In time, we will see more substances breed an entirely new generation of addicts. It is fair to assume that as long as there are drugs for us to get high on, there will be people using them. And, as long people are getting high, intoxicating substances will be intertwined with the human experience. Unless they somehow magically disappear from planet Earth, drugs will continue to shape pop culture and make their mark on history.

Drugs Make History Through Pop Culture

Of course, “pop culture” is short for “popular culture.” It is a representation about what is hot and happening in modern-day society. It’s about what’s “in” at any given moment in our current American landscape. What we consider fashionable. The movies we watch. The music we sing along to. The artwork on our walls. The books we read. The technology we use. Even what hairstyles are considered attractive (remember when all the guys had haircuts like Justin Bieber?). These are all just a few aspects of modern living that help us determine what is popular NOW. Drug use is affecting all of these expressions of human creativity in today’s world. In one way or another, mind-altering substances are stamping their approval on everything we think is cool. (For example, did you know that LSD influenced Steve Jobs in a profound way that ultimately led to the invention of the iPhone?)

These Are The Top Ten Drugs Influencing Pop Culture NOW

In particular, ten drugs are shaping pop culture. These substances are featured in television shows, movies, and music. They are having an impact on fashion, technology, and art. Let’s talk about these ten popular substances in greater depth. These are in no particular order.

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# 1 Marijuana

Street names: Weed, green, bud, smoke, ganja, Mary Jane Let’s face it. Weed is here to stay. It has been around for thousands of years and it isn’t going anywhere. In fact, now that marijuana is legal for recreational and medicinal use in a number of states, smoking weed has become more mainstream. It is featured on popular television shows and continues to be the focal point of music. It’s not surprising that bud is the number one substance rappers pay homage to in their songs. Pop Culture Moment: Snoop Dogg’s “Smoke Weed Everyday 2018 Remix

# 2 Cocaine

Street names: Coke, white, powder, snow, blow, yay-o Those who have been hooked on cocaine will tell you that being in its grip feels like demon possession. The stuff grabs users by the soul and won’t let go. Nevertheless, countless Americans use it recreationally and millions of others are hopelessly addicted to it. It is widely used in the entertainment business and young people continue to experiment with it despite its dangerous reputation. Pop Culture Moment: Lil B “Cocaine

# 3 Molly

Street names: X, E, beans, disco biscuits, Scooby snacks While cocaine and marijuana have been around for eons, Molly is relatively new to the drug scene. Well, kind of. Molly is made of MDMA, which is also the main ingredient in ecstasy. Ecstasy and MDMA have been around for decades, but Molly is packaged and sold differently. Molly usually comes as a colorful pill stamped with a cool-looking design. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Molly abuse is on the rise. In 2014, about 17 million people had tried the drug at least once. This is 11 million more users from 10 years prior. People like to take Molly at raves, parties, and clubs. Pop Culture Moment: Tyga’s “Molly

# 4 Codeine Syrup

Street names: Lean, sizzurp, syrup, drank, purple stuff You might think it’s strange to drink prescription codeine cough syrup, which is typically prescribed for bronchitis or lung cancer. But, lean is a popular street drug that people love to “drank” to catch a buzz. It gives users a relaxed and sedated feeling of euphoria. It is highly addictive. Lean gained popularity in the 1990’s when Houston-based DJ Screw began “chopping and screwing” music while under the influence of syrup. Chopped and screwed music is slowed down and cut up to make a unique sound. It mesmerizes listeners by coinciding with the slowed feeling that codeine offers. Sizzurp is a favorite among rappers and they mention it A LOT in their music. According to an article on Vulture, 33 percent of the rap songs that reached the top ten of Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart in 2017 mentioned the drug. This seems strange, considering that DJ Screw died in 2000 from an overdose on purple stuff. You would think this might serve as warning about how dangerous lean is. But, it hasn’t. Many think sizzurp will eventually kill rapper Lil Wayne. He has had continued health problems over the years because of his codeine addiction. Pop Culture Moment: Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp

# 5 Adderall

Street names: Study buddy, beans, Addy Adderall is a legal prescription stimulant prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.  However, it is widely abused among those who are looking to catch a buzz. The drug is a mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Yup, you read that right. Adderall contains amphetamine. When most people hear this word, they think of crystal meth. Although not as powerful, beans do produce a high that is similar to meth. Adderall has continued to gain popularity as a “study buddy” for high school and college students. It causes an increase in focus and allows users to stay up for an extended period of time. Pop Culture Moment: Rapper Danny Brown’s “Adderall Admiral

# 6 Ketamine

Street names: K, Special K, Cat Valium Ketamine is a very popular club drug. It produces an intense rush of euphoria by altering chemical receptors in the brain. K is especially popular among young users who take it when they go out clubbing. Taking Ketamine is called going down the “K-hole.” Many say it makes them feel like they are on Molly and LSD at the same time. Recent research suggests that Ketamine may be effective in treating depression and PTSD. The drug has sedative and hallucinogenic properties. Ketamine was actually introduced as an animal tranquilizer. But, international laboratories are manufacturing synthetic versions of the Special K and importing it into the United States. Pop Culture Moment: Chemical Brothers’ “Lost in the K-Hole

# 7 Xanax

Street names: Zans (Xans), Zanbars, Bars, Footballs, Zanny (Xannies) Xanax is a benzodiazepine, more commonly known as an anti-anxiety medication prescribed to treat panic disorders. It is similar to Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. Xanax is a tranquilizer. It calms the mind with its sedative properties. Those who take high doses of the drug find it difficult to walk or even hold their head up. It causes extreme memory loss. Users often say they have no memory of the night before when they have taken too many zannies. Xanax has its place on the pop culture scene. It is frequently prescribed by doctors to actors and musicians so they can better manage stress. The Kardashians have mentioned it many times on their show. It has also greatly influenced the music scene. Pop Culture Moment: 25 songs that reference Xanax

# 8 Heroin      

Street names: H, Horse, Brown, Tar, Dragon Heroin. This opiate has taken down some of the most powerful pop culture icons over the years. Yet, it is one of the most feverishly sought substances available on the drug scene. Many abuse H all the way to an early grave. Heroin has been influencing music since as early as the 1930’s when saxophonist Charlie Parker took the jazz scene by storm. It has also inspired some of the best movies the country has ever seen. Brown continues to hold its own in pop culture. Many entertainers consider H a muse that inspires their artistry. Pop Culture Moment: Netflix’s “6 Balloons

# 9 Crack

Street names: Hard, Work, Dope, Rock, Stone Crack is the smokable form of powdered cocaine. It exploded onto the drug scene in the 1980’s in urban areas and quickly became popular nationwide. Rock is much more powerful than powder because it is immediately released into the bloodstream. The stuff produces an incredible rush that lasts several minutes. Crack is extremely addictive. Many experts say that you can immediately become hooked on the drug after just one use. It was designed to be cheaper alternative to powdered cocaine, but an addiction to rock is extremely expensive. This drug has been a gateway to fame and fortune for countless rappers and hip-hop artists. Many have capitalized by selling it and using the money to buy studio time to lay down music tracks. Jay-Z, 50 Cent, TI, and Jeezy are just a few. Pop Culture Moment: Pusha T’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous

# 10 Opioids

It’s not news that opioid addiction is devastating the country. There has been a spike in the use of opioids in the last ten years, which has led to a significant increase in overdose. Prescription opioids like Oxycodone, Percocet, Hydrocodone, and Fentanyl are prescribed for pain. However, they are frequently abused as a recreational drug – which can have deadly consequences. In 2016, pop culture legend Prince died of an overdose on Fentanyl and Hydrocodone. Oxycodone and other opioids, just like all the substances we have mentioned on this list, continue to have their impact on the American landscape. Pop Culture Moment: Macklemore’s “Drug Dealer

How Drugs Played a Part In Pop Culture Before We Were Born  

We tend to think that drugs and their relationship to pop culture are unique to our current time period. But, this is not true. The uprising of mass communication has allowed mind-altering substances to make their presence known since the 1800’s. The printing press, radio, television, the Internet, and social media have all made it possible for many people to receive a single message simultaneously. However, drug use has been ever-present in music, art, literature, and politics throughout the ages. Here are a few examples:

  • Sigmund Freud, the Father of Psychology, was a cocaine addict
  • Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, used to drink cocaine-laced wine
  • Pablo Picasso, the famous artist; used to dabble in opium, hash, and Morphine
  • Mozart and Beethoven were both alcoholics
  • Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson grew opium
  • Adolph Hitler was high on coke and opiates throughout WWII

In their own time, these people shaped the pop culture of their day. Now, we see them as historical figures who made significant contributions in their chosen field. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that their drug use somehow contributed to life as we know it. One day, people will look back on the prominent people of our time. They will marvel at how their use of drugs left a mark on history.

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In The Modern Era, Drug Use Drives Pop Culture

At Northpoint Seattle, we are in the business of helping addicts recover from addiction. But, we don’t deny that drug use and creativity often go hand-in-hand. Many famous songwriters, actors, fashion designers, and artists claim they feel more inspired when they are under the influence of certain substances. The problem is, the drugs stop working and the downward spiral of addiction inevitably follows. Drug us is often glorified in television, movies, and music. These mass media messages create a culture that says, “Yes, more drugs please!” This results in frequent overdose deaths. It also leads to addiction for millions of Americans who once thought it was cool to get high. Let’s take deeper look at the role of drug use in pop culture. You’d be surprised at how prevalent it is. It might make you wonder, how much is this impacting the addiction rate in the United States?

America is Hooked on Dope

Substances like heroin, cocaine, meth, Percocet and Xanax have infiltrated every corner of the United States. People are consuming drugs like never before. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, New York to Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, people are getting high. And it’s killing us. In 2016, more people died of a drug overdose than any other year in American history. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 28.6 million people aged 12 or older admitted to using an illegal substance in the past month. This corresponds to about one in 10 Americans overall. This is a lot of people! Just think what that means when you are in a room of 100 people. At least ten of them are probably high, hungover, or jonesing for some kind of intoxicant.

The Hollywood Drug Scene – Fast and Furious

We hear a lot about the Hollywood elite and how they love their dope. Actors, musicians, directors, producers, and filmmakers – many of them snort, shoot, or smoke everything from marijuana to cocaine. Drug use and Hollywood seem to go hand-in-hand. The media loves to run stories about celebs hitting bottom and dying from overdoses. As the saying goes, these stories sell newspapers. But, you might be surprised to learn that when it comes to drug use, California ranks number 41 out of the 51 states in the U.S. for the prevalence of illegal substances. Washington D.C. is included in the number “51” and, by the way, it ranks the highest. (Kind of makes you wonder what politicians are doing after a hard day’s work running the Congress and the Senate!)    Nevertheless, it’s a known fact that Hollywood celebs love to party. We’ve seen many stars fall fast and furiously from the limelight to the darkness. Unlimited financial resources and access to the best narcotics sets them up to crash and burn.

Hollywood Starlets Often Set An Example That Drugs Are Cool

A lot happens before a Hollywood star’s addiction gets out of control. Eventually, they are put on public display for their antics (think Charlie Sheen). They are ridiculed, shamed, and made fun of. (This, unfortunately, perpetuates the stigma that surrounds the disease of addiction.) But, long before that, many people worship celebrities from afar. Even though it may be widely known that a celebrity uses drugs, they are perceived as glamorous. They are rich, famous, and accomplished. Their place on the A-List sets them up to be emulated by others. They are envied and idolized, leaving the average Joe or Jane to think that it’s cool to get high.

We Have Lost Many Brilliant Hollywood Stars To An Overdose

Before we move on, here’s a list of just a few of the many actors who have died from an overdose throughout the years:

  • Elvis Presley
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Jim Belushi
  • Chris Farley
  • Heath Ledger
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman
  • Brittany Murphy
  • Anna Nicole Smith
  • Mitch Hedberg

Here are a few actors who survived addiction and have become wildly successful:

  • Bradley Cooper
  • Angelina Jolie
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Oprah Winfrey (yup, that’s right – Oprah was once hooked on crack!)
  • Elton John
  • Mary Kate-Olsen
  • Johnny Depp
  • Zac Efron
  • Brad Pitt
  • Ben Affleck

The unfortunate fact is that when a star dies from an overdose, their face is splashed across news outlets and tabloid covers. But, it doesn’t seem to scare anyone straight. And, all the Hollywood actors who have battled an addiction and lived to tell about it? Well, it hasn’t seemed to deter drug use one bit either.

We Love Television Shows That Focus On Drug Use

Americans love television. In fact, The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that Americans aged 15 to 44 spent an average of two hours a day watching TV in 2017. Many shows center on drug use and addiction. These are especially popular among users and recovering addicts. Those of us who have abused certain substances can relate to the content. We laugh at the appropriate places and say to ourselves, “Yup, that is EXACTLY what it is like to smoke a little weed/shoot some heroin/pop a few Mollys/or take a dose of  Dilaudid!” But, even those who have never had a problem with mind-altering substances like to watch TV shows that focus on addiction. They seem to be at least somewhat morbidly fascinated with the seedy underbelly of the drug culture. Television gives them an inside look at a world they don’t understand – which, at the very least, makes for endless hours of entertainment.

Binge-Watching Has Revolutionized Television in Pop Culture

We now live in an era where binge-watching Netflix and HULU has become a favorite pastime. This has greatly influenced pop culture. Just check your Facebook feed. Guaranteed, at least one of your friends is giving you a blow-by-blow of the series finale they just finished watching. Many of us spend our days off watching hours and hours of our fave programs – one right after the other. (And, we’re annoyed when we have to get up to use the bathroom, no less!) We especially like to watch shows about drugs. This is evident by the fact that the television production industry keeps making them. The drug scene makes for good TV. Here are some so-called “binge-worthy” TV shows that focus on using or selling dope:

  • Nurse Jackie
  • Breaking Bad
  • Shameless
  • Intervention
  • Drugs, Inc.
  • Weeds
  • House
  • The Wire
  • Narcos
  • Trailer Park Boys

Keep in mind that there are countless television shows that don’t solely focus intoxicants but feature them as a subplot or regular occurrence. That 70’s Show (now available on Netflix) is a great example. Without a doubt, the show takes a comedic approach to smoking pot and even glamorizes it. However, this is not the sole purpose of the show. It centers around a group of young teens coming of age and navigating adolescence. Weed is just an aside.

Can Binge-Watching Shows About Addiction Result in Addiction Itself?

Let’s talk a little bit more about binge-watching. Dr. Renee Carr, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist, told NBC News, “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge watching, your brain produces dopamine. This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity.” She continued, “It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’ When binge watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine.” So, we want you to know that addictively watching shows about addiction might result in addiction itself! Plus, constant exposure to images that depict paraphernalia, actual drugs, and people who are high just isn’t good for the soul. Want to chuckle? Watch this stand-up bit by comedian Jim Gaffigan. If you’re a binge-watcher, you will be able to relate!

Drug Use Depicted On TV Impacts Young People’s Attitudes

According to, “studies have shown that television competes with other sources of human interaction—such as family, friends, church, and school—in helping young people develop values and form ideas about the world around them.” This means that TV is highly influential in shaping a young person’s perceptions about drug use and addiction. When drug use and dealing are glorified, young people are not likely to consider the many downfalls of these activities. They begin to believe that engaging in this culture leads to fast money, hot cars, and lots of great sex. This, of course, is alluring to young people whose exposure to the real truth about addiction is limited. However, if more teens and young adults were exposed to shows like “Intervention,” they might be more likely to understand that addiction never leads to a good place. The show does a great job of demonstrating how prolonged substance abuse can completely ruin someone’s life. This is great example of how pop culture can have a positive impact.

Drug Movies = Blockbusters and Big Bucks

Television isn’t the only visual medium that offers a sneak peek into the lives of cartel kingpins, street dealers, and addicts. Movies certainly have their place in pop culture – and plenty of them have been focused on drug use. These films are often a smashing success in box offices around the country. They can rake in tens of millions of dollars on opening weekend alone. This is because Americans love flicks about drugs. So, filmmakers continue to crank them out. American Hustle serves as a perfect example of how unbelievably popular drug movies can be. The 2013 film was nominated for ten Oscar awards and the movie brought in $251 million worldwide while it was in theaters. There are only a few scenes in the movie where people get high. But, everything about the flick is set to the 1970’s disco scene when cocaine was everywhere. Plus, many people who went to see the movie thought they were going to watch a film about the “hustle” of the drug trade.

Many Films Show The Dark Side of Addiction

Some drug movies are designed to be dark, gritty, and freakishly fascinating. They depict the downside of addiction and all the weirdness that goes with it. Quite often, the star of the movie is an addict you love to hate. These kinds of characters can become pop icons themselves. While many drug movies are designed to demonstrate that addiction gets you arrested, killed, or in a world of hurt – this doesn’t stop millions of viewers from idolizing the characters involved. Tony Montana from Scarface (played by Al Pacino) is a classic example. Although the movie was released in 1983, it is still one of the most popular drug movies of all times. (Say ‘ello to my little friend!) The film serves as a fantastic cautionary tale about the dangers of using cocaine. Montana spirals completely out of control in the end because of his addiction. But, this hasn’t stopped the masses from worshipping him as some kind of cocaine hero. Montana is the kind of ruthless renegade many modern-day cocaine dealers emulate themselves after. Some of the most popular gangster rappers of our time have mentioned Montana in their music. For example, “Tony Montana” was released by Future in 2012. Here are 11 other rap songs that make some kind of reference to the movie Scarface. Scarface is only one of many iconic dramas that have made their mark on pop culture. Here are a few of the classics:

  • Goodfellas
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • Basketball Diaries
  • Training Day
  • Blow
  • Permanent Midnight
  • Traffic
  • Trainspotting
  • Drugstore Cowboy
  • Boogie Nights

If you are looking for reasons to stop doing drugs – or to teach someone to never do them in the first place – these movies provide inspiration.

Other Drug Movies Are Designed to Enhance The High  

Many films about addictive substances have become timeless cult classics over the years. These are embraced by every new generation of young people as they make their way into the dope game. A movie may be 20-years-old, but a pot smoker will always be able to relate to a movie about weed – just like a Xanax addict can relate to a script centered around benzos. Some drug movies are designed to augment the experience of being high. They are hilarious, created for viewers to watch while they are under the influence of certain substances. “Stoner movies” are a perfect illustration. Stoner films largely center on the use of marijuana. To truly understand a lot of the humor, you have to be stoned. This is because the movie was written for a pot-smoking audience. They are goofy and silly comedies designed to make people laugh while they are high on weed. Here are a few stoner movies that have infiltrated pop culture over the years:

  • Every Cheech & Chong movie ever made
  • Half-Baked
  • Friday
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Reefer Madness
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Pineapple Express
  • Ted

It probably goes without saying that these movies are unapologetic in their position that smoking marijuana is a good thing. Check out this list of the most memorable drug movies of all time.

There Has Been A Shift In Drug Music When It Comes to Lyrics About Getting High

It’s no secret that people still like to get high to music inspired by the drug culture of the 1960’s and 70’s. The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles are still appreciated by up-and-coming users who want to recapture the free spirit of the hippie counterculture. In the past, musicians were much more covert about drug use in their songs. They would use code or abstract descriptions about substance abuse. The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is a great example. The song is written about LSD. But, in the last several decades, drug use been represented like never before. More and more musicians are writing graphic lyrics about what it feels like to be high on certain substances (like Molly and lean, for example). They also write about dealing, the dope game, and violence. This is especially true of the gangster rap genre.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘N Roll…..and Country Music  

Rock ‘n roll music has historically been associated with weed and harder substances like speed, heroin, hallucinogens, and cocaine. Many rockers over the years have claimed to get their greatest bouts of creativity while they were high. People are never shocked to learn that a certain rock band has a reputation for banging mass quantities of drugs. And, sadly, when the news comes out that a rocker has overdosed on Xanax or coke, no one is really that surprised. However, country music is not typically known for a lot of crazy substance abuse. Generally, most country-western songs seem to be written about beer, whiskey, wine, tequila and other types of liquor. Right? Many of us know that alcoholism runs rampant among country singers – but what about drug use?

There Are Plenty of Addicts in The Country Music World   

To be sure, country-western music is known to showcase the use of mind-altering substances other than alcohol. And, the industry is not without its substance abusers. Just think of Willie Nelson – a pop icon who is loved by fans of all ages. He has recorded some of the greatest country-western songs of all time and many of them are about weed. Nelson has always been an outspoken advocate of marijuana legalization. To be expected, he has a wild reputation as one of the most prolific pot-smokers in the music business. He even has a song called “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.” But, Willie is not alone. A lot of entertainers in the country music business use hard drugs and even write songs about them. Here are 15 country songs about cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin.

Let’s Talk About Rap Music and The Glorification of Getting High

While we’ve established that illegal substances have their place in rock ‘n roll and country music, neither music genre is anywhere near as drug-obsessed as the rap music industry. A research study published in the April 2018 issue of Addiction Research & Theory concluded that rap music is glamorizing getting high more than ever before. Denise Herd, associate dean of students at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkley headed up the study. According to Herd, there has been a six-fold increase in drug references in popular songs in the past 20 years. “This is an alarming trend, as rap artists are role models for the nation’s youth, especially in urban areas. Many of these young people are already at risk and need to get positive messages from the media,” Herd said in a public statement. “Rap music is like CNN for black teens. But much of what is discussed in rap is in code. The kids understand, but parents don’t.”

Herd’s Study Revealed That Rap Music and Drug Use Have Evolved

Herd and her colleagues analyzed 341 lyrics from the most popular rap songs created between 1979 and 1997. There was a notable increase in songs featuring positive attitudes toward drugs. Of the 38 most popular rap songs created between 1979 and 1984, only 11 percent contained references to some kind of substance. By the late 1980’s, the number increased to 19 percent. By 1993, about 69 percent of the lyrics contained drug references. We can only imagine what that percentage is today. According to Herd, these findings indicate “a shift from cautionary songs, such as those that emphasized the dangers of cocaine and crack, to songs that glorify the use of marijuana and other drugs as part of a desirable hip-hop lifestyle.” She said, “this is alarming, because young children are exposed to these messages. I don’t think this is a story we as a society want them to absorb.” This video does an awesome job of demonstrating how messages about drugs have evolved over the decades in rap music:

Musicians Who Have Died From an Overdose And The Ones Who Didn’t

To understand how much drugs influence music – whether it’s rock ‘n roll, rap, or country – just take a look at this list of talented musicians who died because of substance abuse:

  • Tom Petty
  • Layne Staley (Alice in Chains)
  • Michael Jackson
  • Amy Winehouse
  • Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots)
  • Prince
  • Whitney Houston
  • Hillel Slovak (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
  • Jonathan Melvoin (The Smashing Pumpkins)
  • Gidget Gein (Marilyn Manson)
  • Pimp C
  • Hank Williams

Thankfully, these musical geniuses have overcome their problems with addiction:

  • Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)
  • Eminem
  • Demi Lovato
  • Tim McGraw
  • Fergie
  • Elton John
  • Keith Urban

Check out this complete list of songs written about drugs over the years.

Some Awesome Celebs Who Are Making Recovery Cool in Pop Culture

Addiction continues to make headlines and influence music, movies, and television. But, we want to celebrate the fact that recovery is too. There are a number of celebs in the entertainment industry who have been vocal about their recovery process. They continue to serve as a beacon of hope for those who are struggling with a substance abuse problem. We want to see more actors, musicians, and entertainers make their mark on pop culture like they have. Here are a few of our favorite peeps in recovery:

# 1 Rapper Eminem

Eminem recently celebrated 10 years of sobriety. We love this. Once upon a time, the rapper dedicated his creative genius to songs about his love of intoxicants. (Among the most famous songs being “Drug Ballad” and “Purple Pills.”) Today, thankfully, Eminem’s music is inspired by his recovery. We have seen a true evolution in his music. He went from being a pop culture icon who glorified drugs to one who glorifies sobriety. We need more Eminems.

# 2 Robert Downey, Jr.

Robert Downey, Jr. is by far one of Hollywood’s greatest comeback stories. He was plagued by an addiction to cocaine and other substances for many years. This landed him in trouble with the law on a number of occasions and sent him to rehab several times. Now, the actor is more successful than ever and is one of the most respected people in Hollywood. Reports indicate the guy is now worth $180 million.

# 3 Rocker Nikki Sixx

Mötley Crüe bass guitarist Nikki Sixx is no stranger to using hardcore drugs. In fact, heroin actually killed him in 1987. For two minutes, the musician flat-lined from an overdose. Now, the rocker has more than 15 years clean. Sixx continues to remain a powerful advocate of sobriety. He is vocal about his past life as an addict and remains active in a recovery program. In 2017, he even wrote a highly-acclaimed op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times about the opioid epidemic.

# 4 Miley Cyrus

We love that Miley doesn’t get high anymore. She has been very influential in the lives of the younger generation. And, let’s just say she hasn’t always been a good influence. Miley flaunted her substance abuse and convinced many unsuspecting fans that doing drugs and having crazy sex was cool. (Have you ever listened to her song, “We Can’t Stop?” It’s about using Molly and cocaine.) We think now that Miley is promoting the fact that she is drug free will be beneficial to her followers. Check out Miley on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon talking about why she quit smoking weed:

# 5 Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is another influential young musician whose place in pop culture has impacted a young audience. A former Disney star and dearly beloved singer/songwriter, Demi has captured the hearts and minds of the 14-27 age group. Her song, “You Don’t Do it For Me Anymore” is a good-bye ballad to her addiction. Demi has been sober for seven years. She is passionate about educating young people about the dangers of substance abuse.

#6 Fergie

Singer and former lead singer for the Black-Eyed Peas Fergie “FergaliciousDuhamel was once hopelessly to crystal meth. She has shared very candidly about how meth made her psychotic and caused extreme paranoia and hallucinations. Fergie has more than 18 years clean. She is proof positive that no matter how far down addiction might take you, you can always rise to the top. Today, she a recovery role model.

Drugs Will Probably Always Have Their Place in Pop Culture

As a society, we love to be engaged in anything that will awaken our senses. We enjoy music, movies, television, art, books, and fashion – the very threads that weave together the fabric of popular culture. And, more than ever before, drug use seems to be a pattern chosen by many to create this fabric. Substance use across the United States and around the world gives no indication that it will slow down any time soon. People still love their drugs, even as we watch the overdose rate continue to climb and witness countless lives destroyed by addiction. Unless every member of the human races gets wise and collectively banishes intoxicating substances from the planet, they are here to stay. And, as long as drugs dominate American society, they will have their seat at the table of popular culture.