Alcohol Ads Lead to Underage Drinking

Well, who would have thought alcohol ads make people drink more ?! A new study has shown that alcohol advertising on television contributes to both underage drinking and binge drinking. According to the research, higher “familiarity” with booze ads “was associated with the subsequent onset of drinking across a range of outcomes of varying severity among adolescents and young adults”.

Image via The Guardian.

It seems like common sense, but a team led by Dr. Susanne Tanski of Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire wanted to back it up with science. They conducted a study on 1600 participants aged 15 to 23, surveyed 2 times: once in 2011 and a second time in 2013.

Out of the participants aged 15-17, 23 percent had seen alcohol ads, as did 23 percent of those aged 18-20 and 26 percent of those aged 20-23. The study didn’t aim to show a direct cause-effect relationship, but instead suggested that the more receptive teens are to alcohol ads, the higher chance they have to start drinking, or to progress from drinking to binge drinking or hazardous drinking – and the more ads they see, the more receptive they become.

The study took into consideration both beer and spirits advertising. Co-author James D. Sargent said:

“It’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages. That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”

However, not all researchers are convinced.

“There are too many compounding variables to draw a correlation between TV ads and drinking behavior among youths,” said Janina Kean, a substance abuse and addiction expert, and president of the Kent, Conn.-based High Watch Recovery Center.

Indeed, there are many external elements which might interfere with this case – many other things outside of TV advertising – and it’s almost impossible to control for all of them.

“Lack of guidance at home, other family members with alcohol issues, and dysfunctional family relationships are all factors that can contribute to a person’s issues with alcohol, and explain why alcohol-related advertising would have been memorable for such a person,” Kean reasoned.

Alcohol is the most consumed drug among the people in the US, and youngsters alike. In 2013, about 66% of American high school students said they had tried alcohol at least once, nearly 35% percent said they’d drank alcohol in the past 30 days, and nearly 21%t reported recent binge drinking. The Center for Disease Control estimates that in the US, underage drinking takes about 4,500 lives every year, mostly from traffic accidents, but also homicide and suicide.

Journal Reference: Janina Kean, president, High Watch Recovery Center, Kent, Conn.; JAMA Pediatrics, news release, Jan. 19, 2015.

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