To be young is, for many, to live with the arrogant perspective that death and danger are only applicable to adults. Youth tends to provide a reckless abandon for personal well-being and a penchant for experimentation—a dangerous combination in an age where mind-altering substances are a pharmacy visit away.
In a recent tweet by Lil Pump, the 16-year-old rapper and viral sensation proclaimed Xanax as “the wave.” Make no mistake, this was no highlight of the benefits of anxiety treatment, this was an irresponsible and reckless co-sign of the recreational use of a powerful and highly addictive benzodiazepine. It was sent out to his nearly quarter-million Twitter followers and retweeted over 5,000 times in 24 hours.
I've written fairly extensively about my past issues with substance abuse, and as much as I'm a believer in the sovereignty of one's body, I'm also old enough to realize that most teenagers have no idea how to handle that responsibility. I narrowly escaped the grip of prescription drug abuse that’s currently tightening around a new generation of experimental youth, and to see such flagrant promotion of a drug that I've seen first-hand ruin lives is upsetting on multiple levels.
Lil Pump, if you happen to read this, I was you not that long ago. I understand the comfort that drugs like Xanax and codeine cough syrup (lean) provide. I'm not going to lie and say I don't see the fun in it, either; people don't often habitually use substances that aren't fun. With a huge following and the potential for a prosperous career, though, I am hoping that you actually read and internalize these words before the drugs completely fry your brain.
First of all, you've heard of heroin withdrawal, right? Cold sweats, intense pain and discomfort, potential cardiac arrest—YouTube the withdrawal scene from Trainspotting if you need a visual aide. Sure, it's a movie, but its depiction of the nightmare that is withdrawal bears an uncanny resemblance. Not only will lean give you those exact same symptoms (it contains codeine, which is an opioid), but Xanax withdrawal has actually been described by many physicians as more dangerous and severe than heroin withdrawal.
You may not have any withdrawal symptoms right now, but addiction doesn't slap you in the face, it creeps up behind you and rewires your entire life while you're not looking. The line between recreation and addiction is impossibly thin, and you don't know what pain and desperation are until that bottle of pills is empty, you're out of money and the plug says you're too deep in debt to be fronted any more pills.
I know you believe that this scenario could never happen to you, I didn't either—nobody does. No one in their right mind willingly signs up to be stealing from their family and sleeping on random couches to avoid homelessness, but like I said, addiction creeps.
I don't know you, but I've seen enough lives ruined or reduced to indefinite stagnation that I feel obligated to tell you what happens when the fun stops.
Beyond that, you're 16, and your fan base is just as young. Whatever you're dealing with that makes self-medication a viable option is also common among the impressionable kids that listen to your music and follow you on social media. You're promoting a path that legitimately has no upside.
Slumping off a Xan feels great that first time, and maybe a hundred times after that. Again, I get it. The warmth, the comfort, that bliss that occurs when your internal dialog shuts the fuck up for a couple hours and nothing matters until you pass out.
But when the Xannies stop doing their job because your tolerance is sky-high or the money runs out, a rubber band effect occurs, bringing back all the issues you were previously dealing. Tenfold. Although, you're likely not thinking about that part and neither are the legions of teenagers that see you gleefully cradling a Xanax-shaped cake to celebrate one million followers on Instagram.
You're also likely not thinking of the friends and families that will be forced to teeter between supporting you and disowning you, wondering each day if they'll get the call that you finally overdosed. These kids look up to you, Pump. Your art and influence are a blessing and a responsibility, and if you're not going to look out for yourself, you at least owe it to your fans to not lead them into the same treacherous terrain you're tip-toeing across.
It's important, however, that I make one thing clear: none of this makes you a bad person, it just makes you a fucking 16-year-old. At 16, I was smoking and snorting anything I could get my hands on, and I absolutely had my share of fun. But then one day I was 20, getting kicked out of my childhood home for stealing from my dad and grandma. Those four years in-between? Hazy at best.
Addiction is a parasite, and it will warp your brain to do whatever is necessary to keep feeding it. You might be the exception to the hundreds of thousands of those that become addicted, but plenty of your fans won’t be.
When your moment in the spotlight comes to an end, what do you want to be remembered for? Your music, your style, and your success? Or being the spokesperson for a lifestyle that will leave many of the people that supported your rise hopelessly addicted to pills, or worse?
I wish you nothing but happiness and success, just know that those two things will become increasingly difficult to attain if you’re not careful, and none of it will be possible if you’re not alive.