Common Tropes and Archetypes: Addiction in Popular Media

Common Tropes and Archetypes: Addiction in Popular Media

Rehabilitation is still a topic that still makes many people uncomfortable. Addiction is oftentimes used as a plot device in popular media, with tropes like the recovered addict, off the wagon, and many more used in both movies and tv shows.

Does showing so many characters who either currently have drug addictions or have had drug addictions in the past as main characters in popular media influence how people consider addicts and people in recovery? It seems likely. Many people rely on stereotypes or how they see something portrayed in media to inform their opinion.

However, as someone who has grown up in the digital age, I can definitely tell you that the media is not always the most reliable way of informing your opinion.  So, when watching different movies or television shows, here are a few of the most commonly used tropes and stereotypes that many different medias enjoy implementing in their works.


What is a Trope?

A trope can be categorized within two different ways; tropes in terms of how they relate to literature and tropes in terms of how they relate to film. But what is a trope? Well, a trope itself is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary by a common or overused theme or device, or a cliché.

For example; one commonly used trope that can be found in both literature and film is The Love Triangle. This is where one person has two romantic options, and most of the plotline centers around making the decision over who their true romantic partner is.

In film and television, a trope is usually portrayed by the actor or actress themselves. They play a character that falls in to certain stereotypes or find themselves in situations that many viewers find to be very common.

In this piece, tropes that are most commonly portrayed in film will be discussed as they relate to television and movies.


The Recovered Addict


The recovered addict someone who’s managed to beat their addiction after going through treatment. Alcoholism, drugs, and gambling are commonly used for this characterization. According to TV, other off brand fare may also include sex addiction, blood drinking, and video game addiction depending upon the necessity of drama needed.

There can be different personalities that they exhibit as well. For example, being outspoken about how drugs and other addictive substances are bad and consistently speaking out on episodes when they are mentioned.

They may also be sympathetic to others who are struggling and try to facilitate recovery. The recovered addict may face conflict when faced with a friend from their past that comes out of the woodwork to try and get them to return to old habits. An example of this is in the television show Elementary, where Sherlock Holmes is forced by his previous drug dealer to abuse a substance he had been clean of for six months.

This is also a common plot in many television shows that take place in California or Colorado, as oftentimes drug rehab in Colorado and California are easily portrayable for most Hollywood studios.


The Sponsor

The Sponsor is generally a side character, someone who has previously been an addict in the past. They are usually a side character that is trusted to guide and mentor the protagonist.

They are usually pivotal to helping the protagonist discover something about themselves at the crucial moment, helping them adjust to daily life, or even becoming part of a plot of themselves through traumatic events.

It’s during this that it seems like when there is a sponsor figure in a certain film or television show, they also tend to be the ones who are kidnapped or put in another dangerous situation where the protagonist is forced to rescue them in some way, shape, or form. Funnily enough, the Sponsor also tends to be the one to work in repair jobs, which could be considered a way that they further portray the stereotype.

They not only mend whatever emotional or mental problem manifests in the protagonist, but also works in some type of job that requires mending. A job like a garage mechanic, tailor, or something in healthcare is very common when it comes to the Sponsor’s job.


Common Misconceptions Due to Tropes

With the tropes, there can also be an unfortunate reinforcement of negative stereotypes that can be attributed to those who struggle with addiction and those in recovery. Several common misconceptions are portrayed not only by non-addicts, but by addicts themselves.

Many people have conflicting opinions on whether these tropes are bringing more awareness to addiction, or if they are simply reinforcing negative or untrue opinions that those have against those in addiction and recovery. For example, it can lead to a concern that those struggling with addictions may not be as willing to reach out to get help due to being seen as a negative stereotype. There is also a concern that because someone is addicted, it is simply a moral shortcoming that they have that addiction. These are a few of the concerns that have been shared in the community when it comes to stereotypes facing those who are addicted.

However, on the other side of the argument, there are those who believe that this exposure is a good thing. There is so many portrayals of addiction and recovery in popular media that it makes it almost easier to discuss the realities and struggles that go along with addiction and recovery.

Addiction 20-30 years ago, was not as widely portrayed in mainstream media with so many open discussions surrounding that portrayal. There is also more positivity associated with the portrayals of addiction and recovery in media, which can lead to more understanding and open discussion of these at times hard to talk about topics.

Overall, tropes are very interesting and entertaining to observe and enjoy. Being able to identify them in the media is not only educational, but entertaining. It allows us to tell when media is being too cheesy, or if they are doing a good job incorporating common aspects of addiction. With all the advancements in the portrayal of addiction and recovery in media, there are benefits to having these portrayals in media.

There are valid concerns and insights to those who may only see the negative portrayals of those with addictions in media, and it could lead to possibly reinforcing the negative stereotypes that addicts have to face when their addiction is revealed or when they come forward about recovery.

In the end, there is only so much that is able to be judged at the moment, and time will be the most beneficial factor in telling us whether or not portrayals of addiction in media will have a positive or negative effect on the real lives of those in addiction and recovery.