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 the kind of messages their kids are receiving daily through song lyrics. Parents may be able to easily monitor their children’s media consumption at home. 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 actually have?
Music is one of 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 is exposed to. But if a person is struggling with substance abuse, you can help them find them 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
- Does Certain Music Promote Drug Use?
- Research Into Drug Use and Music
- What About Other Types of Media?
- Help is Available
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. As expected, this caused the general public to worry that this music would influence youth to follow in the musicians’ footsteps. In fact, 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. It can clearly be troubling, then, if a young person’s role models flaunt their illicit drug use.
Rap music often comes to the forefront of this conversation.
Hip-hop is one of the most popular genres among young people and has a high tendency to reference, and often glorify, drug use. However, this was not always the case. In its early days, rap was more likely to depict the dangers and negative consequences of drug abuse. Conversely, recent hip-hop artists are seen 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 obvious, the direct cause and effect isn’t always as clear.
In an investigation similar to the study mentioned above, rap did indeed contain much higher rates of substance abuse references than any of the other genres studied. Country music came second to rap, though distantly. Only 36% of country songs referenced substance abuse, as opposed to 77% of rap songs.
But other genres certainly blend drugs and music as a lifestyle. While rap’s lyrics may make the most references to drugs, other genres still have a culture of drug use surrounding them. Some genres are inextricably linked with substance use. As an example, “Narcocorridos” is a genre popular on both sides of the Mexican-American border with lyrics that center on stories of drug traffickers.
A more widespread example is the prevalence of MDMA use in the rave scene and electronic dance music (EDM) scene in general. People use MDMA–aka ecstasy, or “molly”–at raves to create a feeling of intimacy among strangers and alter the way 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.
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 the 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 a relapse.
Research Surrounding Drug Use and Music
The increase of drug references within music, especially specific genres, has led parents to be concerned about the impact that long-term exposure to such music has on young listeners.
Many researchers have investigated the matter in order to determine the risk. One study, which surveyed a group of community college students aged 15-25, examined 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 variables such as age, gender, and race, listening to rap, techno, and reggae music was positively associated with alcohol and illicit drug use, as well as 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. This suggests that 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, then it’s possible that other media has an effect as well.
An additional study, conducted in 2004, compared adolescents’ marijuana and alcohol use across a variety of media exposures. This was the first study to examine such effects of not only music, but books, movies, video games, and other forms of media. The researchers surveyed high school students in suburban Pittsburgh to determine which types of 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 was associated with alcohol use.
The data suggests 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 completely prove that one is caused by the other. There is correlation, but it can be difficult to prove causation.
Research has shown that substance abuse and music are indeed connected, but has not been able to determine to what degree which influences which. In other words, while it is possible that music can 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, any number of outside factors can play a significant role in someone’s choice to use drugs.
Help is Available
So, can the music you listen to lead to drug addiction?
Drug culture and music culture have been closely linked throughout modern society. Furthermore, references to substance use in popular music continue to rise. However, given the research that has been conducted to date, we cannot conclusively answer “yes.”
While substance use could be influenced by music, the opposite could also be true. A person’s music preferences could in fact 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 addiction can be prevented with the 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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