- Deseret News - Saturday, June 6, 2015

Some say movies are the true portrait of our lives.

But that’s not the case when it comes to drug use, according to a new study from the New York Film Academy (NYFA).

The study found that drug use is more common in movies than in real life, Complex reported.

To find this, researchers analyzed how much the U.S. population did a certain drug in different eras and compared that amount to how much drug use, and what kinds of drug use, there was in movies during those times.

“And yeah, movie characters do more drugs than the average population does,” Complex reported.

“But that’s to be expected — films about gangsters or addicts or rock stars are way more exciting than ones about librarians.”

Part of this may be because movies are slow to react to drug trends or tend to exaggerate them, Complex reported. For example, cocaine was a popular drug in the 1980s, but high cocaine use didn’t reach the silver screen until the 2000s.

Also, heroin, marijuana and LSD, which have all slightly climbed in usage among Americans, have risen considerably higher in movies, the AV Club reported.

“Heroin, marijuana and LSD have all been creeping northward in popularity lately, but they’ve positively skyrocketed on the silver screen,” the AV Club reported. “Cocaine, meanwhile, has managed to thrive on the big screen while nosediving in the real world.”

The NYFA conducted this study as a part of its “High Cinema” project, which aims to discover if movies influence drug use among Americans, according to the AV Club, which pointed out that drug use climbed from 2002 to 2013 as use also climbed in movies.

The NYFA is now researching movies and drug use data to see if there really is a connection.

Some research has been done in the past about how drug use in movies affects drug use in the real world. A 2012 study published in Pediatrics said that youngsters who watch movies with cigarette-smoking characters are more likely to pick up smoking, Reuters reported. The researchers told Reuters that teens specifically pick up the act of smoking, rather than all bad behaviors in those movies.

In fact, teens were just as likely to pick up smoking after seeing people light up in an R-rated or PG-13 movie, Reuters reported.

“I really think it’s a ‘cool’ factor,” the study’s lead research Dr. James Sargent told Reuters. “The more they see it, the more they start to see ways that (smoking) might make them seem more movie-star.”

To find this, researchers had 6,500 American children 10 to 14 years old watch a random selection of movies. Those who watched movies with smoking scenes were more likely to pick up smoking over time, Reuters reported. In fact, “for each extra 500 smoking shots reported in the initial survey, youths were 33 to 49 percent more likely to try cigarettes over the next two years,” according to Reuters.

But some are looking for Hollywood to change its ways so that children won’t feel the desire to use illicit drugs. The Independent wrote in 2000 about a study that found melodramatic and alarmist images of drug use in movies does little to stop youngsters from trying drugs.

In fact, participants in the study said that even though movies showed the harsh realities of drug use, they also showed pleasurable experiences, which may inspire some youngsters to try drugs, The Independent reported.

The report’s author, Arnold Cragg, said it’s important for Hollywood to mimic reality so that it has less of an impact.

“The sort of realistic portrayal, which makes the fear of use well-founded, seems likely to best serve the public interest,” he said, The Independent reported. “When credible, it is less easily demolished by mocking friends and contrary personal experience.”

Similarly, Florida Beach Rehab published an article that said Hollywood needs to stop showing drugs in a humorous and over-the-top way since it only makes children more interested in drug use.

“The importance of how TV and movies influence young people is highly relevant, since it will have consequences on their behavior for the rest of their lives, and therefore interventions are crucial,” according to the article. “It is alarming that Hollywood filmmakers do not seem to understand that humor tends to undermine normal adolescent defenses against drugs and legitimizes their use.”

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