Is rap to blame for teenage drug use?

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Is rap to blame for teenage drug use?

Carly Steed, Managing Editor

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The music industry and fans were shocked when news of the death of rapper Malcolm McCormick, better known as Mac Miller, reached the public on Friday, Sept. 7. Miller, who was only 26 at the time of his death, was known for his charm and positive influence in the music community. Cause of death? Drug overdose.

Throughout his career, Miller struggled with addiction and did not shy away from discussing his problems publicly. His last album, “Swimming,” was released only a month before his passing and included songs that addressed his addiction issues. When his autopsy report was released last week, it was revealed that Miller overdosed on a mixture of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol.

Miller is the second beloved rapper to die from drugs in the past year. The first was Gustav Elijah Ahr, better known as Lil Peep, who died in November of 2017 after overdosing on fentanyl and Xanax. Peep’s passing led to widespread mourning in the rap community, but it was also surrounded by controversy. Critics blamed Peep’s constant reference to drug use in his music for glorifying addiction and opening the gateway for others to become addicted. Just hours before his death, Lil Peep posted a video on social media in which he bragged about taking six Xanax pills.

Peep’s death was announced by his manager Chase Oretega on Twitter, who wrote, “I’ve been expecting this call for a year.”


Hip-hop and rap music has always been blamed for creating a drug culture. Rappers constantly refer to illegal substances in their lyrics, but the recent deaths of Mac Miller and Lil Peep have reopened a discussion on the true impact that music has on drug culture. The current opioid crisis in America has only intensified the need for this conversation. According to the Addiction Center, the number of people receiving treatment for addiction to painkillers and sedatives has doubled since 2002. The rise of drugs like Xanax, Adderall and Percocet being used in rap lyrics has left many wondering if perhaps there is a link between the two.

“Different groups of people become addicted to different kinds of drugs,” said Joseph Gabriel, Associate Professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine. “It’s almost like fashion. One drug might be cool among one group of people but not with another group.” substance misuse and teens

The possible connection between rap music and drug culture has also raised concern about the effects this could have on teenagers, who are the primary audience for this genre of music. According to the Addiction Center, half of all new drug users are under the age of 18. While there are many reasons that teenagers start using drugs, two main causes are peer pressure and role models. When adolescents see their favorite film/TV stars, pop stars, or musicians abusing drugs, it becomes more attractive to them, and they tend to imitate their behavior. This is highly impressionable on young adolescent brains, which studies have proven to be more susceptible to addiction than adult brains.

In his 2016 report “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health,” former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said. “Preventing or even just delaying young people from trying substances is important for reducing the likelihood of more serious problems later on. It is never too early and never too late to prevent substance misuse.”

Teenage addiction causes problems not only for teen drug users, but also for society at large. Some effects of drug use among teens include traffic accidents, school-related problems, risky sexual practices, delinquent behavior, juvenile crime, developmental problems, physical and mental consequences, infections and violence. When teens misuse drugs, they are far more likely to develop an addiction later in life. According to, the majority of those with a substance abuse disorder started using
before they turned 18.

Prescription drugs and rap

One of the most common drugs misued by teens are prescription medications. The CDC reports that one in five teens have excessively used prescription drugs. These prescription drugs are typically narcotic painkillers like OxyContin and benzodiazepines like Xanax, the same drugs that have led to the recent opioid epidemic and the same drugs that rappers have increasingly referred to.

“There’s a long history of medical sciences developing new drugs and then introducing them to society as medicines and them becoming problems for people,” Gabriel said. “All the drugs we think of as addictive drugs started out this way. It’s the same story over and over again.”

Every day,115 Americans die from opioid overdose, as reported by the CDC. Sales of OxyContin rose from $48 million in 1991 to $1.1 billion in 2000. More than 30 percent of opioid overdoses also involved benzodiazepines, a type of prescription drug that calms or sedates a person. This class of drugs includes Xanax, the drug that has been most prevalent in recent rap.

While rap and hip-hop music cannot be singularly blamed for teenagers misusing drugs and the opioid crisis, it may be valuable to explore a connection between the two. Music and popular culture often reflects problems in society. With lyrics like “keep a bag of xannies if you tryna join the family” from famed rapper Future and “Lean on rocks (Act) perkys, mollies, xannies, rocks (roxies) / Oxycontin (oxyies)” from rapper trio Migos, rappers are arguably providing free marketing for dangerous prescription drugs.

In “Stopped Making Excuses,” a 2016 documentary by “The FADER” about Miller’s life, he said, “I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged out mess who can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is just not cool. There’s no legendary romance, you don’t go down in history because you overdosed. You just die.”