Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH
The link between drugs and music has been intensely researched over the years. Popular music frequently references–and in some cases glamorizes–drug use.
The studies on this connection typically involve adolescents and young adults, as they are a highly impressionable demographic. With music being such a significant part of youth culture, it is common for parents to worry about their kids’ messages daily through song lyrics. Parents may be able to monitor their children’s media consumption at home easily. However, they often have little supervision over what their children listen to at school or with their friends.
But how much influence does the music have?
Music is one of the countless factors that influence our thoughts and behaviors. Even if music is a motivating factor in substance abuse, it’s hard to control what someone else exposes themselves to. But if a person struggles with substance abuse, you can help them find the support they need.
Regardless of your reasons for abusing substances, we are here to help guide you toward the appropriate treatment options, so call us today at 385-327-7418.
Media of all types can influence us in both positive in negative ways. However, music especially has been historically linked with drug use. Learn more about the relationship between drugs and music and what research tells us about its impact.
The Relationship Between Music and Drugs
In the 1920s, marijuana use became associated with jazz. Jazz musicians used their songs to tell narratives of their drug use. This caused the general public to worry that this music would influence youth to follow in the musicians’ footsteps. The use of marijuana in the jazz subculture partly motivated early movements to criminalize the drug.
This helps illustrate just how strong the impact of music is on American culture. Additionally, it explains why some people may be worried about the kinds of messages music is sending out into the world.
Since then, music has only become more deeply engrained with youth culture. The way people interact with music goes beyond lyrics and the content of the music itself. Music choices often define the subcultures that many young people embrace. And certain types of music prominently feature certain drugs and related lifestyles.
Moreover, many young people look up to their favorite musicians as role models. If a young person’s role models flaunt their illicit drug use, it can be troubling.
Rap music often comes to the forefront of this conversation.
Hip-hop is one of the most popular genres among young people and tends to reference and often glorify drug use. However, this was not always the case. Rap was more likely to depict drug abuse’s dangers and negative consequences in its early days. Conversely, recent hip-hop artists are increasingly linking illegal drug use to wealth, glamor, and elevated social standing.
One study found that since 1979, when Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” introduced rap to mainstream audiences, references to illegal drug use in rap music have increased sixfold.
Does Certain Music Promote Drug Use?
The short answer is yes. However, while the promotion might be prominent, the direct cause and effect aren’t always exact.
In an investigation similar to the abovementioned study, rap had much higher substance abuse rates than any other genre studied. Country music came second to rap, though distantly. Only 36% of country songs referenced substance abuse instead of 77% of rap songs.
But other genres indeed blend drugs and music as a lifestyle. While rap’s lyrics may make the most references to drugs, different genres still have a drug use culture surrounding them. Some genres link with substance use. For example, “Narcocorridos” is a popular genre on both sides of the Mexican-American border with lyrics on drug traffickers’ stories.
A more widespread example is the prevalence of MDMA use in the rave scene and electronic dance music (EDM) scene. People use MDMA–aka ecstasy, or “molly”–at raves to create a feeling of intimacy among strangers and alter how they experience the music. However, research has found that rather than rave music influencing adolescents to use MDMA, many young people become involved with the drug first, then gravitate toward the music scene.
It can be a bit of a blurred cause-and-effect relationship, as the influence can go both ways.
The genre may be a related factor, but researchers have also found that music can become linked to drug use in an individual’s mind, even if it is not explicitly connected with drug culture.
A person may mentally draw parallels between particular songs and euphoric drug experiences. Therefore, even after they have stopped drug use, hearing these songs can trigger such memories and potentially encourage substance use or relapse. Call us today, and we can help you on the track to recovery.
Research Surrounding Drug Use and Music
The increase of drug references within music, especially in specific genres, has led parents to be concerned about the impact of long-term exposure to such music on young listeners.
Many researchers have investigated the matter to determine the risk. One study, which surveyed a group of community college students aged 15-25, examines the correlation between their music choices and substance use. The researchers wanted to know whether listening to music containing messages of violence and substance use was related to young people’s substance use and aggressive behavior.
They found that, regardless of age, gender, and race, listening to rap, techno, and reggae music was positively associated with alcohol and illicit drug use and aggressive behaviors.
These results suggest that substance use and violence in young people may indeed be related to frequent exposure to references to these behaviors in music. What this study was not able to determine, however, was whether the participants’ music preferences influenced their behavior or if their behavior influenced their music choices.
A similar study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that teens who listen to music that mentions marijuana are much more likely to use marijuana. Among the participants, those who listened to music with the most references to marijuana were nearly twice as likely to have used marijuana than those who favored songs less focused on substance use. The average participant in this study listened to approximately 22 hours of music per week and heard around 40 marijuana references per day.
This study also showed that exposure to marijuana through music was not associated with other high–risk behaviors such as excessive alcohol consumption. There is a strong link between the specific substances referenced in song lyrics and actual substance use.
What About Other Types of Media?
Since research has found a strong correlation between drug use and music, other media may affect it.
An additional study, conducted in 2004, compared to adolescents’ marijuana and alcohol use across various media exposures. This was the first study to examine such effects of music and books, movies, video games, and other forms of media. The researchers surveyed high school students in suburban Pittsburgh to determine which media they consumed the most and their substance use habits. They found that exposure to music appeared to be more associated with marijuana use, while exposure to movies associates with alcohol use.
The data suggest that different forms of media outside of music may have varying influences on substance use.
An important point to remember regarding these studies is that a strong correlation between two factors does not entirely prove that another causes one. There is a correlation, but it can be challenging to prove causation.
Research has shown that substance abuse and music are indeed connected but have not determined what degree influences it. In other words, while music may inform drug use, drug use can also influence music choice.
Music that references substance abuse may introduce some young people to previously unknown substances. However, many outside factors can play a significant role in someone’s choice to use drugs. If you are suffering from an addiction then call us today.
Help is Available
So, can the music you listen to lead to drug addiction?
Drug culture and music culture link throughout modern society. Furthermore, references to substance use in popular music continue to rise.
While substance use could have influences through music, the opposite could also be true. A person’s music preferences could be a result of their drug use. Ultimately, no matter which way the influence goes, one cannot deny that drugs and music share a deep connection and a long history.
Addiction can afflict anyone, regardless of the media they consume. Talking with kids about substance abuse can help them better understand the risks and prevent addiction with proper intervention.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s substance use, we can help you figure out your next steps. Call us today for more information on prevention resources and treatment options in your area.
Written by Alina Gonzalez
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