Trigger Warning: This piece contains descriptions and true accounts of alcohol and drug use.
If you think being forced to lick fentanyl off a knife by a drug dealer, as Rue has to in Season 1 of Euphoria, is a far-fetched depiction of high school, allow me to rid you of that opinion faster than Jules flushed Rue’s stash down the toilet. Having lived out my own version of Euphoria High School, I can confirm what happens in the show is real.
My friends and I may have worn J.Crew T-shirts with poorly drawn black eyeliner instead of sultry crop tops with rhinestone-accented makeup looks. But the drug use, partying, sex, and parental absence in my high school was identical to what happens in the first two seasons of Euphoria. The show feels hauntingly familiar — and it’s brought up a lot of deeply buried memories. When I first watched, I immediately saw my two best friends in Rue, and I doubt I’m alone.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14% of high school students reported misusing prescription opioids like codeine, Vicodin, and OxyContin in 2019, while 15% reported using “select illicit or injection drugs (i.e. cocaine, inhalants, heroin, methamphetamines, hallucinogens, or ecstasy).” The CDC also notes that “drug use is associated with sexual risk behavior, experience of violence, and mental health and suicide risks,” as depicted in the series.
I bore witness to a lot of these statistics in high school. I was the “Lexi” of my friend group. (If you’d like this essay turned into a play, my DMs are open.) Two of my friends, let’s call them Emma and Olivia*, attended wild parties every weekend, and while I usually opted to stay home and study, I joined a few times. Just like Lexi loses track of Cassie while talking to Fez in Euphoria’s Season 2 premiere, I once spent a night on a couch across from a cute stoner boy, awkwardly fiddling with a beer and wondering where the friends I’d agreed to drive home had disappeared to. When I found Olivia after searching the halls of a party for her, she told me she had just saved a girl from drowning in her own vomit in a sink. It sounded sus.
The similarities continue. The laundry room where Rue and Elliot did hard drugs, tucked away from the crowd, brings up other memories. Years after graduating, I reconnected with a woman who was adjacent to my friend group in high school. She told me Emma and Olivia had the “pill room,” their own version of Rue and Elliot’s hideaway. They would display pills on a table, cut them into one big line, and snort the resulting mixture with the rolled up bills their parents gave them for gas money. On the rare occasions I went out with them, they took great lengths to make sure I never accidentally walked into this room.
Euphoria critics often point out the lack of parental supervision on the show: Where are they when all these teens are partying? How is Nate’s mom cool with Cassie sleeping over in her son’s room every night? Don't the adults realize the kids are not all right?
For me, the answers to these questions are simple. Since my parents divorced when I was young, my mom worked basically 24/7 and trusted me to stay out of trouble. She was definitely the “cool mom” of the friend group (sort of like Lexi’s mom but without all the drinking). When she found out Emma and Olivia often slept in their cars after partying, too afraid to drive drunk home to their parents, my mom gave them an open invitation to crash. When I was an upperclassman, she occasionally extended the same invite to my long-term boyfriend. This was the case for a lot of my peers.
Euphoria is most relatable to me at its most harrowing. The guilty expression Jules wore after telling Rue’s mom Rue was still using drugs is one I know well. One morning, I woke up to dozens of texts and missed calls from Emma and Olivia saying they needed to talk. In her words, Emma told me she was addicted to a prescription painkiller I’d never heard of called “oxy,” and that she wanted to stop using. The problem? Emma was Olivia’s oxy dealer, and Olivia was angry enough about Emma no longer supplying her drugs that she stopped talking to her. Emma couldn’t tell her parents, so she was going to try to do it on her own.
It was an utter shock to learn that in our almost three years of friendship, I had never once seen Emma sober. (As Lexi puts it, “I feel like I’ve lived most of my life in my imagination.”) But I never could have imagined someone I’d basically spent every second with for years was hiding their substance misuse. Like Lexi watching Rue snort powder off a book before Rue’s dad’s funeral, I had no idea what to do or say — I definitely debated reading a poem. I wanted to be there for my friend, but I was scared.
I didn’t want Emma to die, so like Jules, I told my mom what was happening. When I noticed Emma wasn’t at school the next day, my stomach sank with an awful feeling, so I excused myself to the restroom. I called my mom and she told me what I’d already inferred: Emma’s mom had found out.
Despite what I’ve lived and watched play out on screen, I still have hope for the Euphoria teens — hope that their broken relationships can somehow be mended. Emma’s rehab program caused her to miss a lot of school, but she later forgave me for ratting her out. We remained friendly after high school, though we eventually drifted apart. I graduated from college, and Emma dropped out to avoid relapsing after finding heroin needles in a bathroom during orientation week. Olivia and I, on the other hand, stopped being friends senior year and her drug use continued.
In the final episode of Euphoria Season 2, Lexi and Rue reconnect and bond over the loss of their respective fathers and the pain that comes with that grief. Their willingness to be vulnerable and heal makes me hope these characters have brighter days ahead. Emma, Olivia, and I never had conversations so honest or direct. But hey, at least Lexi and Rue’s reconciliation felt like closure.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).