The Medias Effect on Underage Alcohol Abuse

The Media’s Effects on Underage Drinking

The use of alcohol is a major aspect of our society. It is used in religious ceremonies, during socialization, and its presence is seen everywhere. Second only to caffeine, more people drink alcohol than any other substance. It appears in many forms such as beer, wine, and hard liquor. It has been praised, denounced, accepted, and outlawed in the past century alone.

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The effects of alcohol are numerous. From drunk driving accidents to fetal alcohol syndrome, from liver disease to the increased chance of sexually transmitted disease, alcohol’s reach is widespread. Alcohol contributes to 100,000 deaths annually, making it the third leading cause of preventable mortality in the United States (McGinnis, p. 2208). As well, 41% of all traffic fatalities, the leading cause of accidental death, are alcohol-related (NHTSA, sec 4. p.1).

Underage drinking is a major problem in our society. Thirty-four percent of all high school seniors have had a drink in the past month (Johnston, p. ). As well, 1.2 million of these seniors are binge drinkers. (CASA, 1997). In eight grade, 1 million students admit they have been drunk (CASA, 1997). In 1996, nine million drinkers were under the age of twenty-one, and that number has increased since.

Approximately two thirds of teenagers who drink can purchase their own beverages (HHS, p. 1). Even worse, people who begin drinking before age fifteen quadruple their chances of developing alcoholic tendencies (NIAAA, P. 1). Knowing this, the fact that 38.1% of children age fourteen have had a drink is quite disturbing.

Everyone admits that it is a problem, and how widespread and dangerous it is, but no one really tackles the problem at hand. They blame it on parents, bad teaching, and more commonly peer pressure. Something had to first influence their peers to influence them. The excuse that people are more like to drink if their parents do is also used, but what influences their parents to drink? The question people need to ask themselves is what exactly has influenced our society into widely accepting the use of alcohol?

If someone asked you exactly what Tony the Tiger says when he appears in television commercials, how long would you need to think about it? If that same person were to ask you what those talking frogs say on television, how long would it take you to remember that? The majority of children nine years old to eleven years old can respond to the latter much faster than the first (Leiber, p. 1).

In a world where children are able to identify more brands of beer than American Presidents (Hopkins, P. 25), there is a clear and definite problem. The root of this problem is the media. The increase in underage alcohol consumption is a direct and indirect result of the media’s influence on them.

A very large chunk of a television program is its commercials. They praise this soft drink because its taste is richer than the other brand, these potato chips because they are not as greasy and have less fat than that other brand and these khakis because, hey, people can swing dance in them.

The commercials are colorful and loud, they feature the “beautiful people”; super models, Hollywood stars, sports stars, and rock stars that society has come to look up to for advice. We have talking frogs and celebrities, comedians and rock music all imploring us to give up our products and try something new and exciting.

In the Superbowl, for example, the commercials play as important a role as the game itself. Just ask someone what the score was, and then ask him or her what their favorite commercial was.

From Pringles to the Gap, companies are spending millions of dollars so that we will buy their products. The bottom line is that advertisements sell products.

This is no different for alcohol either. The beer brewing industry spends six hundred million dollars a year on television and radio advertisements (Hopkins, P. 24). As well, they spend ninety million dollars a year on print advertisements (Wall Street Journal, 1996). Aside from that, they get the less obvious kind of advertisements. When you are watching a movie, you see people drinking a certain soda, and eating a certain fast food restaurants.

When you look at exactly which age group is watching television programming, you then have to consider exactly whom the television industry is pointing their advertisements at. Television shows such as Dawson’s Creek and Beverly Hills 90210 are aimed predominantly at teenagers for their audiences. Many times they advocate abstinence of habit-forming substances to teenagers. However, once these shows stop for commercials, those same teenagers are bombarded with advertisements for Budweiser and numerous other alcoholic drinks.

On average, children are exposed to one thousand to two thousand beer and wine commercials a day (Hopkins, P. 25). That is almost one commercial a minute. This goes back to the basic principle of advertising; it sells products (Hopkins, P. 24). If teenagers get accustomed to alcohol now, they most certainly will continue using it when they are older. They are four times as likely to become alcoholic as well. But if these companies can recruit the children now, they will continue to receive money from them in the future. Advertising sells products.

Television ads portray drinking in situations that are potentially dangerous. Of beer commercials surveyed, one-third of them involved drinking alongside driving or water activities such as swimming, boating, or playing on the beach (Alcohol, Health and Research World, 1993).

These commercials link drinking with sociability by showing pretty and famous peoples having fun drinking. They show elegant and rich people drinking expensive wine. After the big promotion, you can break out a bottle of wine to celebrate. After a hard day at work, the average Joe can crack open his favorite beer, and hey, it has a wide mouth for easier drinking. When you go to the beach, don’t forget your favorite drink to have more fun. These commercials link drinking with sociability, elegance, physical attractiveness, success, romance, and adventure.

It doesn’t stop you television either. If you open your favorite magazine you can find out that Smirnikov brand vodka isn’t pretentious. The most highly collected advertisement among teenagers is Absolut vodka advertisements. Even when you are driving down the highway in your car, billboards hail the numerous alcoholic beverages you can purchase.

The most popular place for alcohol advertisements is in sports. Throughout stadiums you can see thousands of men with a beer in one hand and cheering on their team with another. Colleges denounce drinking on campus and insist they do everything they possibly can do to halt it as a problem on campus’ across America, but in college sports on television there are 1.2 commercials per hour (Madden, p. 297-9)

In professional sports programming, it is worse. In the Superbowl, we can watch two different kinds of beer have their own variation of football in the “Bud Bowl.” Alcoholic commercials constitute seven percent of advertisements in sports programming (Madden, p. 297-9). And this does not include the imbedded advertisements. In the stadiums, entire walls are devoted to a brand of beer. The proud makers of one brand of beer brought this game to you while their competing brand is bringing you the scoreboard. If you go down to the First Union Center you can hag out at its very own microbrewery after the game.

Soon we will be able to see advertisements on the players’ uniforms. Ken Griffey Junior can support Budweiser while Dennis Rodman can tout Molson Ice. These imbedded messages appear at a rate of over three per hour in major sports such as baseball, football, basketball and hockey (Madden, p. 297-9).

By age sixteen, teenagers list alcohol advertisements among their most favorite advertisements (Covell, p. 1). Hey, who doesn’t like frogs that make funny jokes and can talk? It is for the same reason that people are interested in seeing young, vibrant actors swing dancing in Gap khakis and young children popping open that can of Pringles. Advertising is, by definition, the activity of attracting public attention to a product or business, and it works.

By examples cited above, there is a clear link between the commencement of underage drinking and the alcohol industry’s use of media to advertise their products. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a subsection of the well-known National Institute of Health, has researched and stated that “Alcohol advertising may influence adolescents to be more favorably predisposed to drinking” (NIAAA, p.3). In the 1970’s, Sweden banned alcohol advertising and it worked. Alcoholic consumption decreased by at least twenty percent (Hopkins, P. 26).

If the United States were able to implement a restriction on alcohol advertisements, similar to the bill passed involving the Camel cigarette advertisements, we could reduce the amount of teenage drinkers in our society. By doing this, it could lead in a reduction of legal aged alcoholics, raise birth rates, increase school and work productivity, and raise the general health of our nation one notch more.

Works Cited
Alcohol, Health and Research World, 1993.

CASA, 1997
Covell, K. “The appeal of lifestyle advertisements for
tobacco and alcohol,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA, 1991.

HHS, “Youth and Alcohol: A National Survey. Drinking
Habits, Access, Attitudes, and Knowledge,” Washington, DC, 6/91.

Hopkins, Gary L., MD, DrPH, Director, Center for Adolescent
Behavior Research, Andrews University, Power Point Presentation “Media Influence on the Health of Adolescents”
Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., & Bachman, J.G. (1998).
National survey results on drug use from the Monitoring the Future study, 1975-1997. Volume I: Secondary school students. (NIH Publication No. 98-4345)

Leiber, Laurie MPH, Commercial and Character Slogan Recall
by Children aged 9 to 11 Years, A survey for the Center on Alcohol Advertising, 1998.

Madden, P.A. and Grube, J.W. “The Frequency and Nature of
Alcohol and Tobacco Advertising in Televised Sports, 1990 through 1992,” American Journal of Public Health, Feb., 1994, p. 297-9
McGinnis & W Foege, “Actual Causes of Death in the United
States,” Journal of the American Medical Association
{JAMA}, Vol. 270, No. 18, 11/10/93, p. 220
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic
Safety Facts, Section 4, Pg. 1, 1996
NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
News release, January 14, 1998 p. 1
NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
Alcohol Alert, No. 37, 7/97 p.3,
Wall Street Journal, November 27, 1996

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The Medias Effect on Underage Alcohol Abuse. (2018, Jun 05). Retrieved from