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The Entertainment Industry and Addiction in America

2 min read · 2 sections

From movies to music and everywhere in between, pop culture and entertainment influence how we behave and what we view as acceptable. This can have a negative impact when substance abuse is casually portrayed, or even glorified, by the entertainment industry.

The Glamorization of Alcohol and Drugs

The use of substances has become ingrained in our cultures. In many societies, including the United States, drugs and alcohol play major roles in cultural activities.1 Try imagining a sporting event without beer vendors or a wedding without a champagne toast. Unfortunately, over time we have come to view substance misuse as the equivalent of responsible consumption.

The acceptance of substance abuse has spilled over from the entertainment world, where addiction is not only displayed but all too often glamorized. Myths about addiction are spread by celebrities and overblown in the popular media. Television shows and movies contain appreciable amounts of substance abuse, and drug and alcohol use are common themes throughout all genres of music. Some concerning findings regarding the barrage of substance use throughout the entertainment world include:

  • Drugs are present in nearly half of all music videos, including alcohol (35%), tobacco (10%), and illicit drugs (13%).2
  • 1 drinking scene is shown on television every 22 minutes, 1 smoking scene every 57 minutes, and 1 illicit drug use scene every 112 minutes.3
  • 71% of prime-time television programs depict alcohol use, 19% depict tobacco use, 20% mention illicit drug use, and 3% depict illicit drug use.4
  • More than 1/3 of all drinking scenes on television shows are humorous, while less than 1/4 of drinking scenes show any negative consequences.5
  • The average teenager is exposed to nearly 85 drug references a day in popular music.6
  • 40% of profiles on social networking websites reference substance abuse.7

Does Substance Use by Celebrities Influence Us?

Depictions of drugs and alcohol by the entertainment industry are generally positive and send mixed messages about substance use. This is very dangerous, as studies have shown that the media can strongly influence the decisions of children and adolescents, as well as adults.8 The specific actions and recommendations of celebrities also have a major impact on our decisions. Recent research in neuroscience has discovered that celebrity endorsements activate brain regions involved in making positive associations, building trust, and encoding memories.9 In this regard, our sources of entertainment significantly contribute to the risk that we will engage in substance use. Some of the research findings supporting this influence include:

There is no question that seeing or hearing about substance abuse through our sources of entertainment negatively impacts us. It is therefore imperative that those of influence in entertainment are more careful about the messages they send to their followers. Studies have shown that the actions of celebrities can greatly influence the public’s health decisions.15-16

It is reasonable to believe that decreased exposure to substance abuse in the media or successful treatment of a celebrity’s addiction can have a positive effect on the drug-related behaviors among the millions of consumers of film, television, and music. This will help to minimize the negative public health effects associated with our current glamorization of drugs and alcohol, hopefully resulting is less cases of substance abuse, overdose, and death.

Understanding the difference between portrayal of drugs in the media we consume and the effects of those drugs in real life is critical. However, if you are struggling with addiction there are options for recovery. With proper treatment, recovery is possible.


  1. Kuntsche, S., Knibbe, R.A., & Gmel, G. (2009). Social roles and alcohol consumption: a study of 10 industrialized countries. Social Science & Medicine, 68(7), 1263-1270.
  2. Gruber, E.L., Thau, H.M., Hill, D.L., Fisher, D.A., & Grube, J.W. (2005). Alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances in music videos: a content analysis of prevalence and genre. Journal of Adolescent Health, 37(1), 81–83.
  3. Gerbner, G. (2001). Drugs in television, movies, and music videos. In: Kamalipour, Y.R., Rampal, K.R., eds. Media, Sex, Violence, and Drugs in the Global Village. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 69–75.
  4. Office of National Drug Policy Control. (2000). Substance Use in Popular Prime-Time Television.
  5. Greenberg, B.S., Rosaen, S.F., Worrell, T.R., Salmon, C.T., & Volkman, J.E. (2009). A portrait of food and drink in commercial TV series. Health Communication, 24(4), 295-303.
  6. Primack, B.A., Dalton, M.A., Carroll, M.V., Agarwal, A.A., & Fine, M.J. (2008). Content analysis of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs in popular music. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 162(2), 169-175.
  7. Moreno, M.A., Parks, M.R., Zimmerman, F.J., Brito, T.E., & Christakis, D.A. (2009). Display of health risk behaviors on MySpace by adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 163(1), 27–34.
  8. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006). Children, adolescents, and advertising. Pediatrics, 118(6), 2563–2569.
  9. Hoffman, S.J., & Tan, C. (2015). Biological, psychological and social processes that explain celebrities’ influence on patients’ health-related behaviors. Archives of Public Health, 73(1), 3.
  10. Sargent, J.D., Wills, T.A., Stoolmiller, M., Gibson, J., & Gibbons, F.X. (2006). Alcohol use in motion pictures and its relation with early-onset teen drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67(1), 54-65.
  11. Primack, B.A., Kraemer, K.L., Fine, M.J., & Dalton, M.A. (2009). Media exposure and marijuana and alcohol use among adolescents. Substance Use & Misuse, 44(5), 722–739.
  12. Wills, T.A., Sargent, J.D., Gibbons, F.X., Gerrard, M., & Stoolmiller, M. (2009). Movie exposure to alcohol cues and adolescent alcohol problems: a longitudinal analysis in a national sample. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23(1), 23–25.
  13. Primack B, Douglas E, Kraemer K. (2010). Exposure to cannabis in popular music and cannabis use among adolescents. Addiction, 105(3):515–523.
  14. National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. (2012). National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens and Parents.
  15. Niederkrotenthaler, T., Fu, K.W., Yip, P.S., Fong, D.Y., Stack, S., Cheng, Q., & Pirkis, J. (2012). Changes in suicide rates following media reports on celebrity suicide: a meta-analysis. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 66(11), 1037-1042.
  16. Cram, P., Fendrick, A.M., Inadomi, J., Cowen, M.E., Carpenter, D., & Vijan S. (2003). The impact of a celebrity promotional campaign on the use of colon cancer screening: the Katie Couric effect. Archives of Internal Medicine, 163(13),1601-1605.
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