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NIDA. (2017, May 30). Addiction in Fiction: Dealing with the Consequences of a Drug Problem in “This Is Us”. Retrieved from

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The NIDA Blog Team
May 30 2017

TV shows often downplay the seriousness of drug use. This Is Us is different. Known for portraying real-life issues, the show confronts drug use and its long-term consequences for relationships. One episode, “Memphis,” presents these consequences for two main characters.

Rebuilding a relationship

Randall and his birth father, William, are on a road trip to Tennessee. William has late-stage cancer and wants to reconnect with his family before he becomes too sick. When William was younger, he had a drug problem, and made the difficult decision to give Randall up for adoption after Randall’s mother—who also had a drug problem—died following Randall's birth.  

In one scene, William attempts to reconnect with his cousin Ricky, who William once played with in an almost-successful band. But William walked out on the band just when they were on the verge of a big hit, and soon he began using drugs. Can he reconnect with Ricky despite the obvious tension between them?

William’s story is fictional, but for many people with a drug problem, damaged relationships are very real—even when the harm isn’t physical. This Is Us shows how trying to repair this damage can take time and hard work, and requires a lot of forgiveness and acceptance.

An important decision

It’s also a reminder that sometimes a person reaches a “decision point” where a choice they make can turn their life in a completely different direction—like deciding to try, or not try, a drug; or getting help when you know you have a problem, versus not seeking help until a lot of damage has already been done.

When you’re using drugs, it’s difficult to focus on important decisions, because the drug has all the power in your life. And in the end, the people you love the most can suffer the most. In This Is Us, William and Randall are doing their best to rebuild everything they’ve lost to William’s drug use.

In the comments, tell us: Which stories about drug use—in TV shows, movies, books, or songs—have been most powerful for you?  And if you think you or someone you know might have a problem with drugs, see NIDA’s treatment guides for how to get help.

Learn about the connection between TV and teens’ tobacco use.