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It's Time To Get Real About Drug Use in Hip Hop

Article Written by: Priscilla María, Mental Health Advocate and Writer

On December 8, 2019, we lost Juice WRLD to substance abuse. Juice WRLD, born Jarad Anthony Higgins, had been transparent about his ongoing battle with drug addiction. As stated by his mother, Carmella Wallace, “addiction knows no boundaries” and its impact is extensive. She goes on to express her hope that the conversations started by her son about drug addiction will continue so others may achieve sobriety.

Juice WRLD joins many other Black male musicians that lost battles to addiction such as: Jimmi Hendrix, Pimp C, Prince, and Chris Kelly. Yet, messages glamorizing drug abuse remain palpable in music performed by many Black artists today. For instance, popular rapper Playboi Carti's song “Got It” includes the lyrics “I'm so addicted to drugs” and “Shawty in love with the drugs.” Moreover, Playboi Carti has publicly said that rappers quitting lean is “so corny.” Similarly, grammy-nominated artist Travis Scott's “Drugs You Should Try It” includes the words “you know we never care to overdose.”

Thankfully, influential artists such as Juicy J and Vic Mensa are challenging today's pro-substance abuse status quo. In the words of Vic Mensa, "We need to recognize that the shit we talk about influences children. So, when we are steady pushing a message of lean and Percocets and Xans, we are polluting the minds of the youth." Similarly, Juicy J recently tweeted, "If I inspired anybody to do drugs, I apologize.”

It is powerful that Black men are countering the pro-drug messages that predominantly Black neighborhoods are bombarded with. For instance, research supports that the disproportionate availability and promotion of malt liquor and fortified wines in disadvantaged neighborhoods not only facilitates access to alcohol but establishes drinking norms that encourage more frequent and excessive consumption of alcohol. Consequently, those living in disadvantaged neighborhoods report greater incidents of work, legal and health consequences as a result of drinking than those living in wealthier neighborhoods.

Unsurprisingly, American society makes a greater effort to facilitate and normalize substance abuse in predominantly Black neighborhoods than it does to provide competent drug education, resources and rehabilitation services for its residents. Overall, a low socioeconomic status is a risk factor for inferior access to and quality of mental health care. Compared to whites, Black people and Latinx are less likely to complete drug rehabilitation programs. Part of the reason for this outcome is that racial minorities are more likely to live in a disadvantaged neighborhood with compromised social support and employment opportunities. Additionally, predominantly Black and Brown communities may have less and worse treatment options than those provided in predominantly white communities.

To be clear, adopting the War on Drug's philosophy that drugs are “bad” and abstinence is the only way is counterproductive because it is untrue. Medical drug use as prescribed by a professional is often a part of an effective treatment plan. For instance, studies have concluded that MDMA may help veterans living with PTSD. What should never be encouraged, however, is masking the symptoms of an untreated mental health condition through self-medication with substances.

Drug abuse and mental health conditions often go hand in hand. For instance, about half of all individuals living with a severe mental health condition are abusing substances. Drugs are frequently used to temporarily alleviate the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health condition such as anxiety or sadness. Long-term substance abuse, however, often exacerbates these symptoms, places individuals at risk for the onset of other underlying mental health disorders, and makes individuals susceptible to developing an addiction. Additionally, substance abuse can interact with medications and render these prescriptions ineffective at treating symptoms of mental and physical conditions.

Given these facts, seeing someone numb themselves through drugs should be a cause for concern and not reason to glorify or condemn their behaviors. Instead of normalizing getting blacked out drunk when we're upset or getting high off pills to repress uncomfortable feelings, we would all be better off by normalizing therapy, mental health conditions, support groups, and coping mechanisms.

Juice WRLD started abusing opiates in the sixth grade saying: “I didn’t have a man giving me no type of guidance. My father wasn’t in my life like that. So listening to this grown-ass man rap about lean, I’m like, ‘Well, that sounds really appealing.’” It is long overdue that we change this narrative and provide positive role models receiving mental health treatment for Black youth to emulate.

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