CN: substance abuse, substance addiction,
prescription drugs, overdose
Last month, rapper Lil Peep died from the result of recreationally mixing Fentanyl and Alprazolam. The death was not beautiful; it didn’t exist through stills or within an artfully lit setting. It was cold, lonely, and most probably painful. The result of mixing Fentanyl and Alprazolam is respiratory failure, not a cause of death which would spring immediately to mind when considering all the ways substance abuse can damage your body. The chemical reactions drugs cause in your body don’t care for your social status, or your place in the world. Addiction and substance abuse are not discretionary conditions, certain individuals may be more vulnerable than some, but anyone is at risk if they expose themselves to that part of society.
Drug use and abuse is not an alien concept in our modern world. With slow but somewhat steady work being done at reducing stigma, the general public is slowly gaining a greater understanding as to how addiction and substance abuse works. Mainly, that it is not the fault of the addict – that when in the throes of addiction, the behaviour and mentality of the addict will be altered, and they will not be themselves. The work to combat the social stigma surrounding substance use and abuse seems to mainly take place online, particularly through social media. Whilst I am never one to discourage the raising of awareness, the stories told online always seem to follow a set narrative, one which is always more palatable. The reader sees this presented framework, which is always presented from a position of retrospect, a perspective of recovery, not the perspective of an addict. With the struggle to understand what is real and what is false, simply a cultivated image, we struggle to understand which recreational drug use we see on social media is simply recreational, or is part of a deeper problem within the individual.
“Stories told online always seem to follow a set narrative, one which is always more palatable”
The rapper was no exception to this. Lil Peep’s music and social media were full of references to drug use, existing within an industry where substance abuse has become normalised, glamorised, even expected. This behaviour was presented on his social media and within his music, but did not seem to raise concern among his audience and fans whilst it was occurring. Perhaps signs of his addiction were ignored because, as a generation, we are naturally more cynical to what we see online and within celebrity culture, never truly accepting it at face value. We don’t see social media as a reflection of real life, but rather as an extension of the celebrity image they are trying to construct. Or, perhaps, because drug use was part of Lil Peep’s image all through his rise to fame through SoundCloud, it was never acknowledged because it never emerged as a problem – it was simply always there. From empty prescription pills gently swaying in music videos, to videos of him taking Xanax on Instagram – these references to drug use were seen as a key part of his image.
Upon death, however, his drug use has now become demonised. Symbols of drug abuse, which were clear cries for help all along, have now only been truly realised and acknowledged retrospectively. It is only after death, after severe consequences, that the public can seem to effectively process the true nature of drug use and abuse within the music industry. Through the valorisation and glamorisation of celebrity lifestyle, celebrities appear almost invulnerable to the negative consequence of dangerous and destructive behaviour. Therefore, when events such as those surrounding the death of Lil Peep occur, we enter a state of jarring cognitive dissonance, demonising a behaviour in those who have died from it, but continuing to accept it in those who are currently surviving it.
“It is only after death, after severe consequences, that the public can seem to effectively process the true nature of drug use and abuse within the music industry”
The use and abuse of prescription drugs has risen exponentially in the past decade, and with surprisingly little backlash. Perhaps because the drugs discussed are not technically illegal and are actually used within medicine, they are seen in a different light – safer, more acceptable, and less vulnerable to societal stigma. With over 91 people a day dying last year as a result of prescription drug abuse or overdose, there seems to be an epidemic of prescription drug abuse sweeping its way across America and Britain. The recreational use of prescription drugs has truly taken off, particularly within the rap scene, with the abuse of Xanax underpinning an entire sub genre of music – a new emo, of slow bass beats, sad lyrics, and stylised music videos. We are currently entering into a dangerous trend of medicating our sadness without truly understanding it; a behaviour which can have dangerous repercussions to your mental health and wellbeing. This trend can be seen through increasing mentions of Xanax abuse within music, without ever mentioning therapy or a psychiatrist. Lil Peep was open about his struggle with depression but, whilst taking Xanax recreationally, he never took anything to treat his mental state.
Attitudes towards drugs and substance abuse become muddled, with a glamorisation of the behaviour in life, but a demonisation of the consequences after death. For the majority, the only insight we see into the lives of celebrities is through the filtered lens of social media. With increasing awareness amongst the public of the inaccurate portrayal social media can offer, the public will adopt a natural skepticism towards what they see, and may not take what can posthumously be cries for help seriously. With this in mind, it is important to remember that fame does not render an individual invincible. That whilst rappers may casually reference using and abusing substances, they are still vulnerable to the negative and potentially lethal consequences of this behaviour.