How the Media’s Representation of Substance Abuse Affects Public Perception

Whether it’s images of someone drunkenly stumbling around or someone popping pills and needing a fix, addiction is often portrayed in the media in a negative light in order to evoke feelings of fear and judgment. While the media’s representation of addiction might serve to inform society of the consequences of this disease, it also has the effect of perpetuating stigma and misunderstanding, ultimately causing harm to those struggling with substance abuse disorder (SUD).

Firstly, it should be noted that addiction is an incredibly complex and multifaceted disorder that does not discriminate. It can affect anyone, regardless of demographic or socioeconomic status. However, the media often fails to reflect this complexity, instead opting to use oversimplified and distorted images of addiction, particularly of opioids.

For example, when the opioid epidemic is talked about in the news or on shows like Intervention, it is typically done in a sensationalist manner. Constant references to addicts as “drug-seekers” and “junkies,” as well as the popularized image of a homeless person injecting heroin in an alleyway reveal a pervasive and damaging misunderstanding of addiction and its root causes. This narrative serves to demonize those who struggle with addiction rather than humanize them and thus decreases public empathy toward those most in need of help.

Similarly, the media too often portrays the journey to recovery as a straightforward path of extreme interventions, taking shape in the form of drastic measures such as forcible detox, “tough love,” and arrests. However, the reality is that addiction recovery is a complex and individualistic process that will often involve long-term treatment programs such as counseling and medication, as well as peer-support groups and lifestyle management.

To make matters worse, the media’s narrow representation of substance abusers fails to show how the socioeconomic context plays a central role in addiction. Those affected by addiction are often poorer communities who are only doing what they can to cope with the circumstances they find themselves in. Further, these communities are often marginalized and lack access to health and employment services which could help prevent them from falling into the cycle of chronic substance abuse. The media’s neglect of this important component of addiction only serves to fuel the cycle of stigma and misunderstanding.

The social implications of the media’s heavy-handed and myopic representation of addiction should not be underestimated. The images that we see on television, movies, and even in advertising act as powerful cues that can either serve to educate or misinform our understanding of a certain topic. In the case of addiction, the same images have been recycled over and over again to the point where they act as a gravitational point of reference. In this way, they become the starting point from which our understanding of addiction is formed, and this missing nuance can have devastating consequences for those suffering with the disorder.

To effectively and accurately portray addiction, the media must move away from a single-minded and judgmental narrative and instead focus on providing a more complete and respectful representation of those suffering from substance abuse disorder. This will require media outlets to investigate and explore the real stories of those struggling with addiction, showing the complexity and diversity of their stories and experiences. A more compassionate and well-rounded portrayal of the disease would serve to challenge existing stereotypes and lessen the stigma associated with it.

By expanding the conversation around addiction beyond the sensationalized images that are often depicted in the media, society can start to create an environment of understanding, support, and empathy. This in turn, can offer a safe space for those affected by the disorder to come forward and seek help without the fear of stigma. Such an approach is an essential step to reducing the burden attendant to addiction and developing preventative solutions.

5 things not to say to someone who is addicted

When you find out that someone is addicted, it is important to be careful of the things you say to them. Addicted individuals are very sensitive to words, what you say can determine if they will go in for treatment or not.

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This is one of the reasons why addicts and their loved ones usually experience conflicts because there’s an unhealthy trade of words that is not beneficial to both parties.

Here are some of the things you should not mention to an addict

“It’s your fault”

Many people who are not addicted are in the habit of telling addicts that it’s their fault for getting addicted. It is important to mention that no one wakes up in the morning, and decides that they want to be addicted.

For some people, it was a case of curiosity, others were probably influenced by their peers. Some people who got addicted were maybe looking for a way out of any problem they were facing.

Telling an addict that it’s their fault discourages them from seeking help.

“You’re better than this”

When you tell someone this statement, it might mean that you expected more from them, and they didn’t meet up with the standard you created for them.

Even the smartest or most intelligent people are likely to be addicted, so it’s not really their fault.

“I’m disappointed in you”

If you don’t want to bring an addict crumbling to their needs, avoid saying these words. Instead of saying this word, you can acknowledge that you’re hurt, but you remain confident that they will pull through.

“I don’t associate with addicts”

Addicts don’t really associate with other people because of the stigmatization that comes with their disorder. When you tell an addict this statement, it means you are trying to remove them from your life.

“Why don’t you get help”

Not every addict has the courage to seek help. Hence, instead of quizzing them as to why they didn’t get help, encourage them to visit an addiction treatment center.

When dealing with addicts, remember to use caring and soothing words that will make them feel better. Using the words mentioned in this post can do more harm than good.

Signs that someone is addicted

Addiction is divided into two major types namely substance addiction and behavioral addiction.

Substance addiction is when an individual is hooked on drugs and alcohol. While behavioral addiction occurs when an individual is addicted to habits like food, sex, shopping, video gaming, and gambling addiction.

When it comes to identifying an addicted person, the signs are usually similar, irrespective of the addiction type.

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Here are some ways to know if someone is addicted or not.


It is normal to crave privacy from time to time. However, when it becomes a norm, you can tell that something is wrong. If the person starts to keep to themselves more often without any reason, they might be addicted.

They will prefer staying on their own most time, and they begin to avoid family and friends.

If they manage to go for an occasion, they will keep their distance from familiar people, especially if they are suffering from substance addiction.

Decline in productivity

Another way to know when someone is addicted is when they become less productive. They will find it difficult to meet up with deadlines, and their performance will drop below par.

Some of them might stay late at the office to carry out their addiction.

If the individual is a student, their performance at school might not be up to expectation because they will be more focused on their addiction than academics.

Financial problems

Addicted individuals usually run into financial issues. Some of them have huge debts that they are unable to pay because of their addictive habits.

For instance, those involved in alcohol and drug addiction are more likely to experience money problems than those dealing with a behavioral addiction.

Physical signs/Overall appearance

Spotting the physical signs of addiction applies more to people dealing with substance addiction. You will notice some alterations to their physical appearance, which is beyond normal.  

Some of these physical signs are bloodshot eyes, overweight/underweight, slurred speech frequent itching, lack of personal grooming, etc.

If you identify these signs in yourself or someone you know, it is best to consult an addiction treatment specialist for help. They are great at providing the best treatment for addicts.


The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of wellbeing whereby a person can cope with the normal stressors of life, he/she realizes where her strengths lie, is able to work with them towards being productive and thus contributes positively to the community.

Generally, people believe mental health to be the exact opposite of mental illness, that is, the absence of any form of mental illness such as anxiety or abnormal behavioural patterns, and this is true, though not so limited.

A number of times, a balance between performing expected responsibilities, taking rests, meeting set targets, could give peace in a way that you feel mentally healthy, however, in some cases, it transcends that. A number of factors have been thought to play roles in the mental health of individuals:

  • Genetic

The biological heritage of an individual could contribute to how mentally healthy they remain. It has been suggested that a family history of mental illness could contribute to the development of same traits by members of that family.

  • Pressure

The world is changing so quickly and it could sometimes look like you are being left behind, or that while some of your peers are catching up with the pace, you are barely breathing. This feeling could cause undue pressure which sometimes causes individuals to slip into depression.

  • And many other risk factors such as traumatic experiences, brain damage, alcohol or drug abuse

Mental illness is a broad umbrella for a lot of disorders, some of which are discussed below:

  • Anxiety Disorder: This is a case of constant worry and fear, worse still, they are usually overwhelming.

Other disorders that could be classified under Anxiety disorder are; panic disorder which is feeling terrified randomly without any known cause, it could be characterized by trembling, pounding heart, chest pain, chills or feelings of being stifled.

There is also phobia which is the fear of specific stuff, such as the fear of heights. There is the generalized anxiety disorder which is being unnecessarily under excessive tension.

Depression: Declared by the WHO as capable of stimulating suicide, depression is a mental illness that causes a continuous feeling of sadness and loss of interest.

It is usually characterized by anger, tiredness, slow thinking, weight loss or weight gain and suicidal thoughts. Some suggested risk factors are brain chemistry, hormonal imbalance and inherited traits.

Bipolar disorder: this is a mental disorder that causes unwarranted change in mood, concentration, energy or activity levels. It is usually a swing between energized behavior (manic episodes) and depressive or hopeless states (depressive episodes)

It is possible that a person experiences disorders different from the aforementioned and such diagnosis are often classified under ‘other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.’ Genetics and brain structure & functioning are likely risk factors of bipolar disorders.

Other problems of mental illness may be inflicting self-harm, sleep problems, psychosis etc.


In some persons, it is the inability to get an activity off their faces, or a kind of meal out of their mouths, or to stop a lifestyle.

The most acknowledged form of addiction may be an addiction to drugs, everyone seems to know the consequence, maybe for its more serious repercussions, like mental illness, damage to vital organs or even death.

Addictions are usually a result of regularly doing a thing – regularly eating pork, regularly gambling, regularly downing alcohol and anything done too habitually. So, it is right to say they are long-term habits.

However, it is also important for you to know that many people are at the risk of addiction for various reasons; Genetic factors or family history, their inability to deal with stress, the flow of negative thoughts, or depression.

Addictions generally are very different from misuse or casual abuse, while a person who has misused or abused, for example a drug may get away with the consequences of such action, especially if not done consistently, an addicted individual is more times likely to suffer from his addictions.

Also, the longer it takes to break an addiction, the more danger a person suffers from it. There are lot of effects that an addiction causes, you will find the most direct ones below, but just like a ripple effect, they go on and on.

  • A quite common one is mental disorders, such as depression, paranoia and anxiety. Depression, for example, is even more likely to occur if the addict tries to take a break or stop such lifestyle.
  • Change in behavioural patterns

Unfortunately, this does not only affect the addict, but also people around, especially members of family or friends. A good example is seen in the addiction to alcohol which could result in an irritable attitude such as picking fights irrationally.

Also, an addiction to gambling can cause a once responsible father to abandon his responsibilities while preferring to spend all his earnings in a casino, or a teen to start pilfering when all the money is gone, all of these could go on to cause a damage to relationships and reputation.

What if the addict is violent when intoxicated, as could be seen with Drug Abuse? The immediate family is left to bear the brunt of such behavior.

  • Loss of control

Another dangerous effect is the loss of self-control. The addict can no longer control the urges to perform their addictions.

A Netflix addict cannot see life outside the app even when there are other important tasks.

It is thought that an addiction to alcohol causes a damage of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain necessary for decision making, this may be a reason it appears that alcoholics have no control over their drinking habits even when faced with threatening consequences.

  • Death may occur as a long term effect, especially in substance abuse such as drugs or alcohol, a prolonged use could lead to organ damage such as kidney and liver damage which if not checked could result in death.


When it comes to the concept of addiction, it is something which can be regarded as being very broad. For some addicts, it is very hard for them to come to terms with the fact that they are addicted. They cannot be blamed entirely for this, as they are acting on the pleasure which they derive from whatever form of addiction which is plaguing them.

Whereas, there are some addicts who are aware of the fact that they are addicted, and they are in need of urgent help. These set of people understand the adverse effects which comes with addiction, but there is little or nothing which they can do to avoid it.

Now, looking at both aforementioned cases, there is a peculiarity which pertains to them, and it has to do with being unable to break free from addiction, even if it was up to them or not.

One effective way whereby you can make an addict understand what addiction truly does to someone, is through the use of pictures which aid in further highlighting these adverse effect. For those who are in recovery, it would be easier for these pictures to be used during their sessions, and you can expect that they would be more open to learning.

However, those who are not undergoing any form of addiction recovery, might be hard to get across to. Nevertheless, pictures which magnify the addiction effect have been seen to be largely effective, and hence, all addicts must be made to see addiction in that light.

Another way of ensuring that it is as productive as possible, is allowing the addicts to freely express themselves through arts. Some addicts find it hard to narrate their addiction problems, and one of the ways whereby they can express this, is using arts for this purpose.

One feature about this process is, there is no need for any prior artistic experience, the artist would just be required to draw freely, thereby expressing himself to the maximum. Pictures and arts have been proved to be effective tools in the treatment of addiction.

Interpretive Images of What Addiction Does to You

addiction artThere are a number of disturbing and heart wrenching photos available that depict the hardships that addiction puts people through. It is devastating to see photos of people who have been robbed of their mental and physical health by addiction, yet one of the most effective visual representations of addiction is the art created by addicts themselves. There is actually quite a bit of addiction art available to view because addicts often turn to art to express themselves, rehab centers and treatment facilities frequently offer art therapy and simply because creative minds and addiction prone minds are often one in the same.

Art creation can be a hugely beneficial tool for addicts. Art creation is a cathartic process which harmlessly allows the addict complete control of their creative world. This gives them a tool for self expression and allows them to communicate what addiction is to them. There is no artistic talent required for this process, and addicts do not even need to communicate through recognizable images. They are free to simply express themselves through color, lines, collage items, abstract images and more. Psychologists and mental health specialists have discovered that art creation and coloring is an effective way of connecting a person to their inner child, which is very beneficial to the process of recovery from addiction.

When addicts depict addiction through their art, they seldom depict it as being a part of themselves. They typically create the addiction to be outside of themselves, a separate entity. This is a very important connection to make as it affirms their desire to separate from addiction. It also allows them to address it as its own evil and purge their feelings of betrayal toward it. These art creations are a positive reinforcement to recovery because they aid the addict in moving on from their addiction.

Images of Despair Caused by Addiction

When an addiction first begins, the addict is not aware of how harmful the addiction will become to their lives. They are in a honeymoon phase with the object of their addiction, and are mindlessly happy to escape into it. However, all addictions lead to the same place of destruction. Whether it is a substance addiction, sex addiction or gambling addiction, it will pull your life out from under you while you it has you in a dream state. It will bring you to places of despair, ruin and hopelessness. Many people have been successful at recovering from addiction and these feelings of despair do not have to last. However, it is important to grasp the pain that addiction causes in order to avoid it, even if it means confronting the faces of severe addicts and seeing yourself in their eyes.

  • addiction desperationDesperation. One of the most notable emotions we see on the faces of addicts is desperation. Even if an addict is being belligerent or defiant, it is still plain to see the desire to change in their eyes, and the frustration of not knowing how. This desperation is very difficult for an addict to voice, or to even come to terms with. It is much easier to think of yourself as someone who lives on the wild side but is still in control than as someone who desperately needs help managing their addiction. But the truth is, there are many addicts who will die if they do not receive help.
  • Hopelessness. One of the the most painful tragedies of addiction is that people can reach a point where they truly believe there is no way out. They believe they are destined to serve their addiction until they die. Some are so ashamed of their perceived failure that they take their own lives. This kind of hopelessness is thick with despair, and can be seen in a person’s eyes who believes they are past help.

Images of Appearances Ravaged by Addiction

Addiction is not pretty to look at by any means. I am not referring to the out of control behavior or sticky situations that addicts get themselves into, although those things are unattractive as well. A person’s actual physical appearance changes when they are addicted, particularly to a substance. The more severe and extended the substance abuse is, the worse off the person’s appearance will end up. This is not a vain observation, but rather a general health concern. Permanent damage done to a person’s appearance is always an indication of bodily unhealthiness.

alcoholic imageFor example, we know that alcoholism destroys the liver and can be the cause of many different forms of disease. What is less known is that the bodily destruction that alcoholism causes can be seen on a person’s face as an indication of their failing health. Many alcoholics have a yellowed appearance and unhealthy skin tones. The texture of their skin is becoming visibly leathery, saggy and creased. Their teeth are stained by the repeated consumption of acidic alcohol and they have bags under their bloodshot eyes.

drug addict imageDrug addicts also leave a person with an unflattering physical appearance. Over use of street or prescription drugs has drastic effects on people’s weight, skin and features. Drugs that are depressants tend to pack pounds on people, while stimulants rob people of their weight. Drugs can change the hue of a person’s skin and eyes, dulling them out. There are a number of drugs that can cause sores and abrasions on the skin when used in excess, and drugs like crack cocaine rot the teeth until there is nothing left of them.

smoker imageAnd lastly, smoking has one of the most recognizable deteriorated faces in our society. A smoker’s skin becomes hollow, sunken and gray. Lines appear on their faces and yellowing occurs on their teeth. Their breath usually carries an overwhelming scent of cigarette smoke, and their eyes are sunken and red.

Addiction Images

Addiction is a destructive, degrading and dangerous disorder to possess. Though indulging in an addiction is always a choice for the addict, some people are highly prone to addiction and easily fall under its control. The easiest way to defeat addiction is to not let it begin in the first place. This blog is a collection and explanation of images that depict addiction, either literally or figuratively, for the purpose of educating the public on the dangers of addiction. People learn most effectively by seeing something with their own eyes, which is why confronting addiction visually may be the key to preventing it.

addiction physical appearanceWhen someone is addicted to a substance to the point that they are chemically dependent on it, it has a negative impact on their physical appearance. This is because their body chemistry has a high level of toxicity due to amount of the addictive substance within their system. An addiction to alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, cigarettes or food will affect the appearance for the worst, and the worse the addiction, the more disfiguring the consequences are.

addiction depressionOne of the most destructive things about addiction is what it does to a person mentally. Addiction debases a person and takes them through a downward spiral of their personal character. Addiction makes a person care more about the object of their addiction than they do all the things that should matter most to them, such as their family, their job and their personal health. By the time they realize what is happening to them, they often do not know how to get their lives back on their own. This causes great despair, hopelessness and sadness to the addict.

addiction artAnd lastly, some of the most powerful addiction images come from the artistic abilities of addicts themselves. To be able to see visually how addiction makes a person feel on the inside speaks volumes. The art of addicts reveals a world of personal torment that some people escape from and some people don’t. If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, you should be aware that every major city in Canada and the United States has addiction treatment facilities, such as addiction treatment services in Calgary, New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles.