Martin Samuel writing in the Times argues that blaming celebrities for young people’s drug use doesn’t hold water:
It is a myth, the impressionability of teenagers where the deadliest drugs are concerned. Nobody becomes a casual heroin user. It is too much like hard work. It is the most determined act you will attempt all year.
I’m reminded that in 2006 a reporter from the same paper rang me up to see if I’d link what they saw as the rise in cocaine use by young people to a celebrity. I declined, but the story was written, with Professor Furedi making the connection, and the Guardian’s Bad Science column taking the reporting to task a few days later.
Harry Shaperio writing on the DrugLink blog earlier this year pointed out that the links between what celebrities do and the way that young people behave is probably not central to drug misuse by that age group. But as an earlier paper by the National Collaberating Centre for Drug Prevention, The Effects of Drug use by Celebrities upon Young People’s Drug Use and Perceptions of Use, points out the amount of research in this area means we’re working somewhat in the dark:
It must not be assumed however that the increased visibility of celebrity drug use goes hand in hand with influencing young peoples activities and opinion formation; such statements must be supported by good quality research, applicable to UK audiences. Reception of media images is increasingly documented within theory as an active process in which meaning is constructed in the context of peoples’ own knowledge and experiences. There is a need, within both policy and research to objectively expand our understanding of this process in the context of celebrity behaviour, and the effect this has on the lives of young people. Little is known as to the relative effects of young peoples’ reception of positive and negative depictions of drug use within the media. UK based research is required to ascertain whether media depictions of drug use, help affirm or abate effective drug prevention strategies, taking on board the contemporary developments in media and viewing outlined within this paper.
Where we are on more solid ground is the description of risk and protective factors that influence the likelihood of young people developing long term problems with drugs, and liking particular celebrities hasn’t yet been added to that list.