“Hello, heart… thought I’d lost ya,” says Rue Bennett in an episode of the TV series Euphoria, after stopping what she thought was a drug-induced cardiac arrest by crushing and snorting an Adderall pill she had in her sock.
The HBO series—with its extreme and explicit portrayal of teenage drug use, sex, and violence—has been called a creative triumph, but also a parent’s worst nightmare. Prior to the premiere of its second season, Zendaya, who plays Rue, took to Twitter to remind fans that the show “is deeply emotional and deals with subject matter that can be triggering and difficult to watch.”
The show’s second season, which ends next week, goes deep into Rue’s struggle with addiction and how it affects her friends and family, providing some of the most deeply emotional and difficult-to-watch scenes in the series. Some might find Rue’s actions difficult to understand, let alone forgive, and everyone’s experience with drugs is different, but many of those who’ve had close bouts with drug misuse can relate to these scenes all too well.
“In season 2, the episode where she’s high at home and has a vision of hugging a singing man and gets transported to hugging her father, who reminds her that she’s a good person—that did it for me. I couldn’t stop crying,” said Peter, who is currently recovering from drug misuse. He lost his husband, who also misused drugs, to suicide in 2019. Peter requested the use of a pseudonym to prevent possible repercussions in his professional life.
Peter tried MDMA for the first time just three months after his husband’s death. He received a message on Grindr from a man looking for “high fun,” or sex while on drugs. Peter said he took the drug because he yearned to feel what his husband used to feel, as a way to be close to him again.
Peter liked the high. He described it as a joy he had never experienced in his life, like the joy of falling in love for the first time multiplied by a thousand. Compared to his sober life, which he said was painful, his high life was a dream.
“There have been multiple times I’ve gotten high and have been transported to being with my dearly departed husband, holding him tight, being in his warm embrace. Our love was so pure, I could feel all that energy, joy, and never-ending love during the good times,” Peter said.
He was hooked. He started going on more high fun dates after that, and met people he now describes as “enablers,” or people who pushed him to do more drugs. Now he recognizes that he acted as enablers for them, too.
As the former partner of someone who struggled with addiction, Peter said the scenes of Rue hitting rock bottom reminded him of difficult times, too.
“I once hid the drugs from my husband because I wanted him to stop using. He was severely mad and went berserk, broke everything that came in his way, tried hitting me,” he said. “When I saw that episode of Rue breaking things in the house, saying hurtful things to her mom and pushing her, that was just too real.”
“When I saw that episode of Rue breaking things in the house, saying hurtful things to her mom and pushing her, that was just too real.”
When the pandemic happened, and he couldn’t get high with his hook-ups, Peter started getting high alone in his room.
He said that after a while, his veins started to feel dry from injecting himself so often. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, apparently caused by his drug use. Two months ago, he started showing signs of early-onset psychosis. Having seen his late husband struggle with similar diagnoses, he decided to stop using. He’s tried to recover many times in the past, but said it hasn’t been easy, and that he’s fallen back to using several times.
“Even the smallest setbacks would make me spiral and crave for more drugs,” Peter said.
Withdrawal, which Rue also struggles with on Euphoria, is the set of symptoms that many people who use drugs experience after suddenly stopping or even reducing the chronic use of certain substances. It is often painful, scary, and even life-threatening. There are, however, medical detox programs that help ease withdrawal symptoms as well as anti-craving medications that help prevent relapse.
Peter, who has been in recovery for three months now, is on a number of these anti-craving medications, as well as other medications to help with his bipolar disorder.
“I’m currently consuming 1,750 milligrams of medication every day to undo the damage caused to my brain. Full recovery isn’t on the horizon, but we don’t think about the consequences [of doing drugs]. All we are after is to temporarily dull the pain,” said Peter.
“Rue is an extreme case, obviously, but I feel her,” said Sam, who said she turned to drugs like cocaine, MDMA, GHB, ketamine, mogadon, valium, and rivotril for years to escape the demons in her head. Sam also requested the use of a pseudonym for fear of being judged.
While Sam never became addicted to drugs, she did start getting anxiety and panic attacks caused by the substance misuse, and said she could not remember what it was like to have fun without drugs or alcohol. All her relationships at the height of her drug use, she said, were “chemical romances,” and she’d only go out with people if they got high. If the people she went out with weren’t on drugs, it was too boring for her.
Sam has, however, since learned to slow down and dial back on her drug use, no longer using it as an escape like she once did.
“When I was heavily into [drugs], I always had a little cocaine in my pocket or my bag when I would go out and drink with friends. I was always thinking of the next bump or line. I kinda saw myself in [Rue] and gave myself a big hug for not letting it get to where she’s at,” Sam said.
“I kinda saw myself in [Rue] and gave myself a big hug for not letting it get to where she’s at.”
Another thing Sam said Euphoria gets right is that people need to want to get over their addiction to drugs—it can’t be forced. She learned this firsthand, and from her friends who went to rehab.
“Euphoria really highlights that it’s on you. You can ask for help but if you are not really ready to make a change, it will never happen,” said Sam. “The most important thing I learned is to find it within you to not make it a habit… Your mind has to be strong, stronger than the crap you put in your nose or in your mouth.”
“You can ask for help but if you are not really ready to make a change, it will never happen.”
Drug use, however, doesn’t only affect the individual users. Just like how Rue’s addiction became a shared battle among her friends and family, Sam said her substance misuse deeply affected the people around her. She described the pain and disappointment in her sibling’s eyes when she was deep into her drug use, and how that ultimately became one of her biggest motivators to slow down.
For those struggling with drug misuse or addiction themselves, Sam offered a piece of advice: “Work on yourself and for those around you,” she said. “It’s not just about the next fix or hit, it’s also about care or love for those around you.”
“It’s not just about the next fix or hit, it’s also about care or love for those around you.”
Peter, who said he would never recommend drugs but understands why some turn to using them, had a piece of advice for those with loved ones addicted to drugs:
“Please do not chastise or blame them. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. One has to be in a lot of pain to want to self-medicate. It is not their fault. We need to be compassionate and supportive.”
If you’re struggling with addiction, you can visit the official website of SAMHSA’s National Helpline for treatment information.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.
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