Welcome to the listicle of what became known as the “very special episode” of 90’s TV shows. This is when the shows’ writers would tackle a serious issue, ranging from trying cigarettes, struggling with body image and eating disorders, and experimenting with drugs.
Most of these shows seemed to think that people’s problems with drinking and drugging could be conveniently resolved by the end of the episode. As the 90’s wore on, however, there was a shift in the treatment of these issues; shows started to incorporate alcoholism and drug addiction as ongoing themes in their storylines.
Here are 10 things 90’s TV shows taught us about addiction
#1. Caffeine addiction is just as bad as heroin addiction.
i’m so excited, i’m…so…scared
In the infamous Saved By The Bell episode entitled “Jessie’s Song,” the goody two-shoes character Jesse gets hooked on caffeine pills as a result of the pressure from her upcoming midterms and performance with her singing group. After ignoring Slater’s warning that the pills can damage her health, Jessie finally breaks down in the arms of one of her besties, Zack Morris. The episode is a bit of a stretch, painting the use of caffeine as something as serious as, say, heroin addiction.
#2. Taking random pills will land you in the hospital.
One of the hip-hoppest shows to come out of the 90’s was, of course, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In the episode, “Just Say Yo,” Carlton is on the hunt for some vitamins. He turns to his cooler cousin, Will who accidentally gives him some “uppers” he had been taking in order to maximize his waking hours so that he could juggle work, school, and his girlfriend. Our dear Carlton winds up in the hospital. It’s true, you can overdose on amphetamines, which requires medical attention. In this instance, however, Carlton just gets a little carried away with some manic dancing.
#3. Never hold someone else’s drink. Unless you want to be lectured.
In the Full House episode, “Just Say No Way,” cool Uncle Jesse catches his young niece, D.J., with a beer in her hand. This former bad boy-turned-father-figure can’t keep from losing his cool when he sees what he thinks is D.J. drinking alcohol. Turns out, she was trying to stop some of her friends from drinking. The episode ends with its usual saccharine style when Uncle Jesse apologizes to her for accusing her of drinking. The real lesson that this episode was trying to convey becomes way over-simplified.
#4. You’re alcoholic but you can simply decide to not drink till you can be “more responsible.”
Eddie, the eldest and only son on Family Matters starts college, joins a fraternity, and subsequently experiences a “bout” with alcoholism in the episode entitled “Tips for a Better Life.” The show’s writers seem to scratch the surface of the issue by showing how alcoholism affects the whole family – not just the alcoholic. Eddie is living at home and starts drinking alcohol to excess. Father, Carl, gives Eddie an ultimatum: come home drunk again and you’re moving out. Eddie realizes that his father is right; he shouldn’t drink alcohol until he is old enough to be responsible. Carl then lets him continue to live at home. The episode – and Eddie’s so-called alcoholism – comes to an end neatly tied with a bow on top.
#5. You can’t celebrate your one-year of sobriety by drinking.
In the Blossom episode, “Such a Night,” Tony’s old friend, Jeff, swings by to invite him out to celebrate his “alcoholic birthday.” Tony is thrilled until Jeff invites him out for beers – after all, he’s been sober for a full year. Jeff obviously doesn’t understand the whole alcoholic thing as he’s convinced that it’s been long enough and he can now magically handle liquor. The episode leaves us with father, Nick, and Tony discussing a mutual fear: that one day Tony (a recovering alcoholic/addict) will relapse, too. In all honesty, Blossom was one of the first TV sitcoms to attempt to show alcoholism for what it really is – an ongoing issue that requires constant vigilance.
#6. Doing ecstasy once will Ruin. Your. Life.
In 90210’s original series is an episode by the name of “U4EA,” in which Brandon’s girlfriend at the time, the bike-riding bad girl Emily Valentine, takes the gang to a wild underground rave. Emily, wanting to be closer to Brandon, drugs him with the hallucinogen U4EA, which is most likely Ecstasy. When the rave is raided by police, Brandon and the gang must flee, leaving behind his Mustang Mondale with dire consequences. The car is vandalized and stripped down by a random rave-goer. Later, Emily proves to have some serious issues when she attempts to burn down the gang’s school float. All I can say is, boy, that escalated quickly.
#7. Steroids are real drugs.
In the sitcom Dinosaurs, there’s an episode entitled “Steroids to Heaven,” in which the son, Robbie resorts to taking Thornoids (aka steroids) to bulk up in order to impress a girl. Robbie eventually learns his lesson when he notices the negative impact the drugs are having on his body. Although this show is pure fantasy, I mean, the characters are dinosaurs, its message is quite real: steroids are in fact a drug.
#8. Overdosing at your own party sucks. And also, mixing drugs is no bueno.
More of a teen drama than sitcom, My So-Called Life tackled real issues faced by teens. (On a personal note, being a teenager in the 90’s, this show was my jam). Angela’s best friend, Rayanne, was definitely the wild one of the two. Her character develops a real drug and alcohol problem throughout the unfortunately short-lived series. In the episode, “Other People’s Mothers,” Rayanne throws a party during which she takes ecstasy and drinks copious amounts of alcohol, and the combination is near deadly. At the behest of Angela’s mother, Rayanne is taken off to the hospital. I’d say that this is pretty accurate.
#9.Recovering alcoholics are preachy, blame others, and hold their loved ones emotionally hostage.
In the long-running series Roseanne you’ll find an episode by the name of “My Name is Bev” – a reference to the common AA practice of introducing oneself by first name, which will make sense in a moment. After getting caught for drunk-driving, Bev (Roseanne’s mother on the show) is forced to attend an AA meeting, where she realizes she is indeed an alcoholic. OK cool. Now for the ridiculous part. Bev starts using the program as a way to judge and blame others for her own relapse. The thing is, working a 12 step program like AA is all about being accountable for your own actions. Also, the writers got it twisted: it’s when we’re in our active addiction, we hold our friends and loved ones hostage emotionally and not when we’re working a program of recovery.
#10. Rock concerts and marijuana go hand-in-hand.
In the Step by Step episode, “Just Say Maybe,” the kids all head off to Rockfest ’97, leaving mom, Carol, to worry that they might misbehave. And, just as she had feared, a shady situation arises when Al is tempted to try marijuana.
OK, so this is pretty much on-the-mark. It’s not necessarily the case all the time but, I’m willing to bet it’s more the rule than the exception that weed will be in the air at most rock concerts. However, working a program recovery doesn’t mean that you can’t go to concerts and other shows because there might be substances afoot. I think a lot of people still think that being sober means that you’re only resort is to be a stick in the mud. Quite the contrary, sobriety can be really awesome.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.