'Euphoria' Explores Opioid Addiction in Season 2 on HBO

"Euphoria" cast members (from left): Alexa Demie, Jacob Elordi, Hunter Schafer, Zendaya, Angus Cloud, Barbie Ferreira and Sydney Sweeney

The success of Season 2 of Euphoria on HBO relies on an addiction storyline seen in Dopesick and a number of recent movies and documentaries dealing with opioids in American life.

Lead character Rue Bennett, a high schooler played by the dynamic Zendaya, is a classic dope fiend; she'll take anything – a pill, a line or a needle. In Episodes 5 and 6, Rue hits rock bottom, going through harrowing withdrawal aided by her otherwise abusive mother Leslie (Nika King). By Episode 8, Rue appears to have gotten a handle on her cravings. 

RELATED: Nephew's Overdose Death Led Michael Keaton to Award-Winning Role in "Dopesick"

According to Dr. Lynn Fiellin, professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and Child Study Center in Time, what triggers Rue’s substance abuse "is her struggle with anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health issues... Mental health and addiction are tightly linked. There’s so much overlap you really cannot address one in a vacuum.”

Euphoria creator Sam Levinson said in 2019: "I spent the majority of my teenage years in hospitals, rehabs and halfway houses. I was a drug addict, and I’d take anything and everything until I couldn’t hear or breathe or feel.”

Nylah Burton writes at Vox: "Levinson’s depiction of addiction, as well as emotional and mental disorders, is eerily accurate for many viewers who’ve experienced similar struggles — including myself. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at six years old and bipolar disorder at 18. While I have not experienced addiction, I can relate to much of Rue’s emotional pain, as she was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Levinson masterfully portrays addiction and mental illness as the disabilities and illnesses that they are, rather than the moral and intellectual flaws that society prefers to see them as."

"Lead character Rue Bennett, a high schooler played by the dynamic Zendaya, is a classic dope fiend; she'll take anything – a pill, a line or a needle."

The rest of Euphoria is Gossip Girl on steroids. A group of distaff BFs that includes Rue fractures when Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) has sex in the bathroom at a party with Maddy's (Alexa Demie) ex, Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), in the opening episode. Cassie denies it until the finale, during Lexi's (Maude Apatow) epic school play.

Nate gets pummeled by Fezco (Angus Cloud), a drug dealer who hangs with psychopathic teenager Ashtray (Javan "Wanna" Walton). Other male characters include Rue's drug buddy Elliiot (Dominic Fike) and Nate's closeted father, Cal (Eric Dane).

The moms have key roles guiding their wild children, including Samantha (Minka Kelly), Suze (Alanna Ubach) and Leslie.

In its second season, Euphoria has clearly hit a nerve with the viewing public. Variety reports, "Euphoria is now HBO’s second-most watched show since 2004 behind only Game of Thrones."

Euphoria has been renewed for Season 3


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.