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How Media Influences Teen Substance Use


< Curriculum


Themes & Ideas

Online Safety



Social Media

Substance Use


What Students Will Uncover

These discussion and extension activities ask students to examine issues around media and substance use.

Lesson Overview

Lesson Objectives

After participating in guided discussions and activities, students will:

  • Develop awareness about the frequency of substance imagery exposure in the media they consume
  • Understand how messages about substance use travel through media to young audiences 
  • Demonstrate understanding of the danger of fentanyl and “fake pills” 
  • Practice communication strategies that will help keep themselves and their friends safe around drugs and alcohol

Lesson Materials



This section is intended for the educator, providing them with information about the film, its themes and topics, as well as tips for how to lead students in an impactful discussion.

About The Film

The Film in Context


Lesson Introduction

Slide 1
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Show Slides 1-3

Suggested Script:

Today we will be talking about the media and its influences on substance use. Who can tell me what they think “media '' is and includes? 

Teacher Defines Media:

Media describes any channel of communication. This can include anything from printed paper to digital data. In general, media refers to television, radio, newspaper, internet, social media and other forms of communication.

Before The Movie

Play The Film

Play Film Not available in preview

Lesson Activities

Activity 1

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Media Influence + JUUL

Slide 4

In the film, we meet Robert K. Jackler, MD, a professor at Stanford University with a huge database of tobacco advertisements. 

He expresses that it is not coincidental that JUUL advertisements look so similar to old tobacco ads from the 1920s. 

He notes that in fact, the creator of JUUL used and worked to replicate his tobacco advertising database before JUUL’s rise in popularity.


Here are other examples of images from JUULs marketing and promotion (Show Slides 5-8)

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Discussion Questions:

Slide 10
Slide 11

Beyond modelling their advertisements after old tobacco ads, Jackler notes the ways that JUUL and other e-cigarette companies profit off of what he calls “organic social media.”

Slide 12


Discussion Questions:

Slide 13

Activity 2

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Media Influence + Alcohol

Slide 15

In the film, Delaney asks multiple kids to share how often they see alcohol imagery in the content they watch. She’s surprised to learn that even in shows and movies that seem unassuming and otherworldly, like animated and fantasy films, alcohol is still present.


Discussion questions: 

Slide 16

But how much does alcohol’s presence in the media we consume impact our real-life choices and behaviors? 

LMU Psychology Professor, Joseph Labrie PhD, describes a study on two groups of young men who either watched a movie that featured a lot of drinking or watched a movie that featured very little drinking.


Dr. Labrie explains that the men who watched the movie featuring more alcohol drank significantly more alcoholic drinks than the men who watched the movie with less alcohol imagery.

Discussion questions:

Slide 18

Activity 3

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Real Posts about Fake Pills

Daniel’s father decides to advocate for change after the passing of his son, though he takes a different approach.


Made clear through Daniel’s story, social media and Snapchat in particular have become a popular platform for selling and purchasing drugs. 

With very few safeguards on these platforms, underage teens are able to access substances a lot easier than ever before. 

And at the same time, fentanyl is becoming increasingly prevalent and can be added to drugs without the purchaser's knowledge.

Because it is so potent, drug dealers use it to avoid ordering large quantities of the drug that they are promising the buyer

Lacing drugs like cocaine or prescription pills with fentanyl is cost-effective for the dealer, who assumes they are creating the same psychoactive effects for a smaller price but can be deadly for the buyer, who often will have no idea that the drug they are taking has fentanyl in it.

Overdosing on fentanyl is a risk of buying any drug on the street. And with social media, drug dealing has moved from the streets to screens. 

Daniel’s father made it his mission to hold apps like Snapchat accountable for the drug dealing that goes on in their platform and often has deadly consequences. 

Recently, Snapchat has responded to these cries for accountability with pledges to detect drug dealers and drug-related content on their app at a much quicker rate than before

However, there is still a lot of work to be done and it’s crucial to stay alert to dangers of social media drug transactions.

Distribute the Advice About Fake Pills worksheet - can be completed digitally or on paper.

Using that worksheet, have students answer this prompt:

You are mentoring a student who is two years younger than you. You hear them talking to a friend about how easy it is to find pills online. What would you want to say to them?

Slide 21

Activity 4

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Social Media Support

Slide 23

In the film Alisha Moreland-Capuia, MD explains that feeling accountable to other people for our actions is a huge motivator in changing our behaviors.

Ellie’s TikTok audience functioned as a group of people who were holding her accountable, so even on her hardest days, she made the explicit decision not to start vaping again because of her commitment and their support and motivation.

Discussion Questions:

Slide 24

Culminating Activity: Create a Campaign!

Slide 25

Objective: To develop a social media campaign that provides accurate information on a topic covered in the film and encourages connection and conversation.

Distribute the Create a Campaign worksheet


  1. Divide the class into small groups of 3-4 students.
  2. Choose a specific topic covered or touched on in the film, such as safety precautions to know about psychedelics or the dangers of fentanyl.
  3. Each group should choose a social media platform that best suits their campaign goals (e.g. Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc.).
  4. In their groups, students should create a mock-up of their social media campaign that includes:
  • An attention-grabbing title or headline
  • A clear message or call-to-action
  • Relevant and accurate information about the chosen topic
  • Visuals or media to support their message
  • A hashtag or handle to encourage conversation and connection

  1. Each group should present their mock-up to the class and explain their campaign goals and message.
  2. As a class, discuss the effectiveness of each campaign and provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  3. After the presentations, students can vote on the most effective and engaging campaign.

Note: This activity can be completed in multiple class periods, with each group working on their campaign during different periods. Alternatively, it can be completed in one longer class period.

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Activity 5

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Lesson Conclusion

Further Reading

For Educators

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For Students


Related Movie
Screenagers Under The Influence

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