In the scientific discourse, ‘euphoria’ is used to describe a feeling that is ‘extra’ to an analgesic drug’s treatment of pain. Euphoria, the new American teen drama series, arguably concerns not the brain chemistry of this ‘extra,’ but surplus-enjoyment as such (which is the condition of any jouissance.[1]) In doing so, it also unwittingly hypothesizes the three externalities of ordinary psychosis (social, corporeal and subjective) in logical connection to addiction.[2]

The show paints a picture where post-9/11 American teenagers—seeped in pornography, vape pens and trap music—have largely been failed by familial and institutional structures. As the main character Rue puts it: “the world’s coming to an end and I haven’t even graduated high school yet.” Interesting for psychoanalysis, one aspect of this failure is the subjective reduction of mental health diagnoses and the ensuing ubiquity of pharmacological dependency.

Rue and her best friend Jules both experienced traumatizing psychiatric care as children. These experiences implicitly give content to their current symptoms as teenagers—while Rue’s life is now ruled by drug addiction, Jules’ hinges on a series of replaceable men found through gay hookup apps. The propeller of the television series is whether they will each find new subjective solutions. While there are other character subplots, the story of their friendship and its relation to Rue’s addiction is by far the most compelling.

In the first episode, Rue’s narrative voiceover takes us back to the early diagnoses: OCD, ADD, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, although “it’s still too early to tell.” Immediately after this satirical list, she formulates a tentative demand to the Other: “it’s not like I was molested by a family member, so explain this shit to me.” Or, explain this euphoria? In a following flashback scene, Rue’s mother tells her, “honey it’s just the way your brain is wired,” and that she is among great artists. But for Rue this explanation offers no relief.

Indeed, of her childhood she “doesn’t remember much” except that the “world moved fast and my brain moved slow.” Her mother’s signifier ‘brain’ in fact more acutely separates her from the social order and her own speaking body, pushing her towards a debilitating identification with the real: “every now and then if I focused too closely on the way I breathed, I’d die […] every second of every day you find yourself trying to outrun your anxiety.” This perfectly reflects Lacan’s description of anxiety as “the feeling that arises from the presentiment that we are being reduced to our body.”[3]

As a response to this body event, Rue’s voice-over frames the drug addiction she develops in terms of a subjective “choice about who you are and what you want” when one is socially “without a map or a compass and without anyone able to give one iota of advice.” Significantly, the first time she tries a painkiller is alongside her dying father. Her “panic attacks” remain but through her chosen jouissance she has “found a way to live, which may eventually kill me, maybe, maybe not.” This “maybe, maybe not” is the thin, ambivalent thread that Rue’s subjectivity hangs onto.

Unlike her descriptive voice-over, that omnipresently details the lives of other characters, Rue’s onscreen character desperately struggles to find her voice in relation to family, friends and school life. For instance, there are several scenes when Rue is asked to speak and every time she expresses that “nothing” comes to mind, even if viewers see flashbacks to what she is thinking of. Two seconds of “nothingness” is precisely what she seeks through the body effect of being high, to the point of overdosing. Instead of speaking her lines, she lays out lines of crushed drugs.

Rue’s addictive automatism is interrupted by her friendship with Jules, a new trans-feminine student “unlike anyone” she has ever met and for whom she begins to have romantic feelings. The screenwriting does well to show how Rue’s encounter with the sexual non-relation rearranges the economy of her jouissance and how she uses language. It also does well to show how Rue’s position is still incredibly precarious if “being clean” depends on Jules.

Conscious of the risks in glamorizing addiction just by depicting it, at the end of each episode, there is an advertisement for SAMHSA, a national addiction and mental health hotline. The actress who plays Rue, Zendaya, has issued ‘trigger warnings’ to fans on her Instagram before some episodes. After all, the television show is topically geared towards Gen Z teenagers purportedly dealing with similar issues, against the backdrop of America’s opioid epidemic. And how will teenagers each react to this proposed second reflection of their generation? An impossible question to answer, but one worth considering with respect to the contemporaneity of today’s clinic.



[1] Jacques Lacan, “The Third” (1975), trans. Philip Dravers, The Lacanian Review No. 7, p. 95.

[2] See Thomas Svolos, “Ordinary Psychosis and Addiction in the Postmodern Era,” accessible online here:

[3] Jacques Lacan, op. cit., Anxiety is “really the typical symptom for all forms of emergence of the real,” p. 93.