How the 1980s Deal With Drug Addiction and Mental Illness

The 1980s were a decade of change, innovation, and challenges. It was also a decade of drug addiction and psychological illness. Mental health services were inadequate, and many people struggled with substance abuse.

The lack of preventative measures and society support created a crisis that lasted into the 1990s. This crisis was a result of mental health stigma and a lack of access to treatment. In response, governments and organizations around the world began to destigmatize mental health and increase access to treatment. This has led to an increase in awareness and access to mental health resources. Despite these advances, Black people, LGBTQ individuals, and other minority populations are still more likely to experience mental health issues than their counterparts, due to a lack of representation in mental health services and a lack of understanding of their unique experiences.

What were the common drugs and mental disorders in the 80s

The 1980s saw the rise of various drugs and evolving drug use patterns. Substance abuse was rampant, with cocaine and heroin being the most popular drugs. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder were also becoming more widespread. Treatment options were limited and often stigmatized, creating a cycle of substance abuse and mental health issues.

Some of the common drugs in the 80s were:

  • Cocaine: Cocaine was a popular stimulant that produced euphoria, energy, and confidence. It was often snorted, smoked, or injected. Cocaine use increased dramatically in the 80s, especially among young professionals, celebrities, and athletes.
  • Heroin: Heroin is an opioid that relieves pain, relaxes, and produces euphoria. It was usually injected, but could also be snorted or smoked. Heroin use increased in the 1980s, particularly among the poor, minorities, and youth.
  • Marijuana: Marijuana was a plant that contained THC, a psychoactive substance that produced relaxation, altered perception, and mood changes. It was usually smoked, but could also be eaten or brewed as tea. Marijuana use was widespread in the 80s, especially among young people, hippies, and musicians. Marijuana was also used for medical purposes, such as treating nausea, pain, and glaucoma.
  • LSD: LSD was a hallucinogen that produced distorted perception, altered moods, and enhanced creativity. It was usually taken orally as a tablet, blotter paper, or liquid. LSD use peaked in the late 60s and early 70s, but declined in the 80s due to legal restrictions, negative publicity, and reduced availability.
  • Ecstasy: Ecstasy was a synthetic drug that combined stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. It produced euphoria, empathy, energy, and sensory enhancement. It was usually taken orally as a tablet or capsule. Ecstasy use emerged in the late 70s and early 80s among club-goers, ravers, and party-goers.

Common mental disorders in the 80s

Some of the common mental disorders in the 80s were:

  • Depression:

Depression was a mood disorder that caused persistent sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest. It affects mood, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Depression could be triggered by stress, trauma, loss, or biological factors. Depression could also co-occur with other mental disorders, such as anxiety or substance use disorders.

  • Anxiety:

Anxiety was a disorder that caused excessive fear, nervousness, and worry. It affects emotions, cognition, and physical sensations. Anxiety could be generalized or specific to certain situations, objects, or events. Anxiety could also co-occur with other mental disorders such as depression or substance use disorders.

  • Bipolar disorder:

Bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings between mania and depression. Mania is a state of elevated mood, energy, and activity. Depression is a state of low mood, energy, and activity. Bipolar disorder affects thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Bipolar disorder could also co-occur with other mental disorders, such as substance use disorders.

  • Schizophrenia:

Schizophrenia is a disorder that causes distorted perception, thoughts, and behavior. It affects cognition, emotions, and social functioning. Schizophrenia causes hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and negative symptoms such as apathy or withdrawal. Schizophrenia could also co-occur with other mental disorders, such as substance use disorders.

How did society and the media portray drug addiction and mental illness in the 80s?

Society and the media had mixed views on drug addiction and mental illness in the 80s.

Glamorizing drug use

Some movies, TV shows, music, and magazines portray drug use as a way of having fun, being cool, or expressing oneself. They show drug users as successful, attractive, or rebellious. They also minimized or ignored drug use’s negative consequences, such as addiction, overdose, or health problems. Some examples of glamorizing drug use in the 80s were Scarface, Miami Vice, Wall Street, Less Than Zero, and The Breakfast Club.

Stigmatizing drug addiction

Many movies, TV shows, news reports, and public campaigns presented drug addiction as a moral failure, a criminal act, or a social problem. They showed drug addicts as weak, pathetic, or dangerous. They also blamed or shamed drug addicts for their condition, rather than offering help or compassion. Some examples of stigmatizing drug addiction in the 80s were The Crack Epidemic, Just Say No, D.A.R.E., and Faces of Death.

Raising awareness of mental illness

Some movies, TV shows, books, and celebrities raised awareness of mental illness as a real and serious condition that affects many people. They showed mental illness as a medical issue, not a personal flaw. They also portrayed mental illness with realism, sensitivity, and empathy. Some examples of raising awareness of mental illness in the 80s were Ordinary People, Rain Man, The Bell Jar, and Carrie Fisher.

Stereotyping mental illness

Some movies, TV shows, jokes, and cartoons stereotype mental illness as a source of comedy, horror, or pity. They show mental illness as a sign of madness, violence, or incompetence. They also mock or fear mental illness, rather than understanding or respecting it. 

Bottom line

Drug addiction and mental illness are complex and serious issues that affect many people in different ways. They require comprehensive and compassionate care and support. They also require awareness and understanding from society and the media. The LGBTQ community was particularly stigmatized when it came to mental health treatment, as there were widespread misconceptions about the causes and prevalence of mental illness. It was not uncommon for members of the LGBTQ community to be denied treatment or to be subjected to treatments that were viewed as “cures” for homosexuality.

The 80s were not without fault, but they also had some lessons and achievements that can inspire us today. We can learn from the past, but we can also create a better future for ourselves and others who struggle with drug addiction and mental illness.

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