Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jun 2019
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2019 The New York Times Company
Author: Cara Buckley


The two young women see themselves in Rue, the stumbling, manipulative
teenage drug addict that Zendaya plays in "Euphoria," the new HBO show.

They see themselves in Rue when she coughs and flushes the toilet so
her mom won't hear her rummaging through the medicine cabinet for
Xanax. They see themselves when Rue cops clean urine from a high
school friend to pass a drug test. They see themselves when Rue
convinces a new friend that getting high first thing in the morning is
a good idea; when she threatens her mother with a piece of broken
glass; when she aspirates her own vomit after overdosing. They see
themselves in Rue's pain, her messiness, her unslakable need to
obliterate all the bad feelings, no matter the cost.

And the women, who agreed to be identified by their first initials, N.
and M., to protect their anonymity, also see themselves in Rue's
blissed out, druggy glory.

If there is one thing that makes M. nervous about "Euphoria," it is
this: That it might entice kids to be like she was not so long ago,
looking for reflective surfaces that mirrored everything her addiction
needed back to her.

Shot in luscious saturated colors, the young characters in HBO's
"Euphoria" sext, copulate, record themselves copulating, endlessly
shame each other and ingest loads of pornography, alcohol and drugs.
Sam Levinson, the creator of "Euphoria," based the show on an Israeli
mini-series set in the 1990s and on his own battles with addiction as
a teen.

Research suggests that in contrast to the vice-a-minute portrayal on
"Euphoria," today's real-life teenagers are having sex and using drugs
less often than teenagers of the past did. But if teens, on the whole,
are far less wild, N. and M., who were both addicted to drugs and
alcohol throughout their teen years, said that they still saw a
representation of their lives in the show.

In fact, they said, their experiences were worse than what Rue goes

"When I was using," said N., "literally every move I made was to get

N., who is 23, and M., 24, have been clean about two years after using
every drug they could buy, swindle, steal and sell sex for. They are
both residents at Dynamic Youth Community, a half-century-old
rehabilitation center for young people deep in Brooklyn. Dynamic also
has an upstate center where they each spent around a year and a half
learning how to live clean before moving down to Brooklyn. M. is an
inpatient resident at the Brooklyn site now, and N. is an outpatient
and lives nearby in Sheepshead Bay with her sister and her mother.

They had not seen "Euphoria" but were amped to learn that Drake was
one of its producers, and agreed to watch a few episodes and share
their thoughts after the Dynamic's executive director, William Fusco,
watched the pilot and surmised their sobriety was strong enough for
them not to get triggered. Drugs and alcohol are promoted in ads, on
television, in movies, in music, on Instagram. For N. and M., living
clean and sober meant learning to not get tripped up by all of that.

The two women first met at Dynamic, their lives having followed
parallel trajectories.

N. and her parents are from Turkey, and M.'s parents are from the
former Soviet Union. M. grew up in suburban New Jersey, where she
never felt like she fit in. N.'s family lived in Connecticut and was
undocumented; her father was deported when she was in the fifth grade.
Both girls started smoking and drinking when they were 13, and fell in
love with the escape. "I was unstoppable," N. said.

For both, alcohol and marijuana gave way to benzodiazepines,
prescription opiates and heroin. Then came the consequences. N. got
kicked out of her home and two schools for using and fighting, and
ended up in the hospital a few times to get her stomach pumped. By the
time M. turned 17, she was shooting heroin in her high school bathroom
and selling drugs. Both went to rehab and relapsed; both suffered
drug-induced psychosis - N. from crystal methamphetamine, M. from meth
and crack cocaine. Both traded sex for drugs, or for money to buy more
drugs. "It destroyed my life slowly and casually," M. said.

M. kept moving around and disappearing as her frantic parents scoured
the state and posted missing ads. They brought her to Dynamic in
Brooklyn after she showed up at their doorstep barefoot, skeletal and
disoriented. N.'s mother brought her to Dynamic under the guise of a
doctor's visit. Neither young woman has left since (Karen Carlini, the
associate director of Dynamic, said the staff felt that both young
women's accounts of their drug use were accurate).

We watched the first two episodes of the show in Dynamic's
fourth-floor residence.

The young women's first reaction was that the show felt real in its
depiction of how Rue felt so amazing on drugs but looked like a wreck.
We watched as her character kept slipping into the bathroom to steal
pills as her sister and mother hovered outside, and then assured them
she was clean afterward. "She doesn't want to stop for herself," N.

We watched as Rue hit up her drug dealer straight after she got out of
rehab, and as she had flashbacks to the hell she had put her mother
and sister through, a montage M. found so intense that goose bumps
appeared on her arm.

"Usually people that care about you the most become your worst
enemies, because they stand in the way of you destroying yourself,"
she said.

And we watched a menacing drug dealer with a tattooed face force Rue
to lick liquid fentanyl off a knife. As Rue slipped into the drug's
coma-like high, it looked liked the dealer was going to demand
repayment with sex, until a good-guy drug dealer offered up the cash.

N. and M. exchanged a look.

"This is the part that shows it's a TV show," N. said. "That's what
people think: 'They will look after me.' I've been sold out for drugs
and money so many times" - sometimes, she said, after she had passed

"Realistically," added M., "that would've ended so

Set against the national opiate epidemic, the amount of drugs used by
the show's youngsters is eye-popping.

M. felt that even though "Euphoria" showed addiction's consequences,
it still fed the idea that heavy drug use was normal and exposed it to
people who otherwise might not have been exposed. She hated the idea
of, say, her younger sister watching it. On the other hand, it was
accurately displaying something that, for her at least, rang true.
"Maybe having just gone through a lot of that stuff, I don't want
other people to," she said. "It's a delicate balance."

Levinson, the show's creator, said in an email that the show was "not
a cure or solution," and that if someone struggling with addiction
might find it triggering, they should not watch. "My ultimate hope is
to inspire compassion and empathy for those battling addiction,"
Levinson wrote.

N. said that not everyone would see the show the way she did: as an 
addict. Growing up, she took drug cues from every show that depicted 
drug use, be it "Skins" or "Nurse Jackie" or "Degrassi: The Next 
Generation." Even when the characters lost everything, N. said, the 
shows still made her want to get high, because she felt invincible, and 
like there was no tomorrow.

And though she sees a drug culture "everywhere" these days, she
believes that not everyone who uses drugs is susceptible to getting
hooked. She pointed to one of her cousins - a 16-year-old who worships
trap music and all its drug references - who smokes marijuana and
thinks that Lean, the high-inducing cough-medicine concoction, is the
best thing ever. But, unlike the teenage N., her cousin does not do
drugs all the time. Unlike N., N. said, her cousin does not seem to be
an addict.

"If you're going to get influenced, you're going to get influenced,"
N. said. "It doesn't matter if it's a show or an ad for beer. It's all
about the kind of person you are."
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