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Pop Culture’s Influence on Teen Drinking

One of the biggest public health problems in the United States today is underage drinking. While there are many notable issues amongst America’s youth, alcohol is the most used and abused drug of choice today, beating out both tobacco and illicit drugs. Teen drinking is responsible for over 4,300 deaths each year, making it one of the most pressing problems that must be dealt with right away. Even worse, over 90 percent of alcohol consumption in teens comes in the form of binge drinking. Much like the push to get teens to stop smoking tobacco, the general public is now tasked with the pressure to change the way teens look at alcohol. Unfortunately, a number of elements are working against the push to decrease alcohol consumption for underage youth. Most notably, pop culture is playing a scary role in advocating underage drinking.

A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh and the Norris Colton Cancer Center outlined some frightening issues regarding America’s youth, binge drinking, and its connection to popular music. Young adults today are heavily influenced by all sorts of things in pop culture; particularly alcohol-brand recognition is their favorite songs. Dr. Brian A. Primack, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics and director of the Program for Research on Media and Health in Pitt’s School of Medicine, stated that “Every year, the average adolescent is exposed to about 3,000 references to alcohol brands while listening to music. It is important that we understand the impact of these references in an age group that can be negatively affected by alcohol consumption.”

Conducting a randomized survey of more than 2,500 Americans in the age range of 15 to 23, the study used a list of popular songs which made mention of specific alcohol brands. Then, the survey participants were asked to say which ones they liked and whether or not they owned them. In addition, the participants were asked to recall the specific brand of alcohol mentioned in the song lyrics. As a result, 59 percent of the participants admitted to consuming at least one alcoholic beverage in their lifetime. These alcohol beverages were either five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of some kind of hard liquor. Finally, about 18 percent of the teens said that they participated in binge drinking at least once per month and 37 percent admitted to have suffered an injury due to alcohol consumption.

In the end, the survey concluded that those who participated in the study and could accurately identify the brand of alcohol in a song, were twice as likely to have consumed a complete drink. These teens were found to be much more likely to binge drink compared to those teens that could not identify an alcohol brand. Dr. Primack concluded, “A surprising result of our analysis was that the association between recalling alcohol brands in popular music and alcohol drinking in adolescents was as strong as the influence of parental and peer drinking and an adolescent’s tendency toward sensation-seeking. This may illustrate the value that this age group places on the perceived opinions and actions of music stars.”

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