The way alcohol use is portrayed in the media is a widespread concern, whether TV shows, movies, music, advertisements, or social media. Teenagers and young adults are heavy users of these platforms and can be easily impacted by what they see or hear. 

For instance, people in these age groups are significantly influenced by social media as the number of celebrated influencers skyrockets. This is dangerous because people learn behaviors from personal experiences and are influenced by what they’re exposed to daily. The reality is that this kind of marketing in pop culture has led to numerous cases of unhealthy alcohol-consumption trends.

How Teens Are Affected 

An uncomfortable fact that no parent wants to hear is that by the time teens are seniors in high school, almost 70% have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, 40% will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20% will have used a prescription drug for nonmedical purposes. Many factors influence these decisions, such as peer pressure and the availability of the drug. The National Institute on Drugs Abuse (NIH) further states that the teenage years are a critical window of vulnerability to substance use because some brain areas are less mature than others.

It should be no surprise that the media also plays a big part in teens falling victim to alcohol use. On average, children ages 8-12 spend four to six hours a day on screens, and teens spend up to nine hours a day on their phones or watching TV. Given that most TV shows portray drinking as a positive experience rather than a negative one, teens then take to drinking as a means of appearing adult or grown-up like their favorite characters. 

In addition to representations on screens, alcohol use is commonly mentioned in music. Themes of alcohol are most common in rap, hip-hop, and R&B music. These genres commonly mention tequila, vodka, and champagne in their song lyrics, whereas pop and country music songs usually reference whiskey and beer. Much of the media that portrays drinking — even underage drinking — does so by presenting it as a normal part of life or directly promoting it through ads or social media.

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Direct and Indirect Influence

Pop culture can affect young adults’ views of what is expected in society, either directly or indirectly. “Direct media” includes advertising that promotes a specific behavior, such as celebrities promoting a particular brand of wine or beer. 

Celebrities strongly influence teens as role models because they are widely recognized, rich, and appear to have a good time. When viewers see professional athletes, models, or actors advertise a new alcoholic seltzer, for example, the message perceived is: “You can be just as fit, popular, or beautiful as me if you drink this.” Young adults often try to mimic such stars’ lifestyles, thinking they will achieve the same happiness or attention.

On the other hand, “indirect media” is when an activity or behavior is not promoted deliberately, but instead, a stereotype is encouraged. This can be seen in movies or television shows when beloved characters meet friends at a bar or make new friends over shared drinks at a party. Typically, that movie or TV show doesn’t include the adverse effects drinking can cause and only displays it as positive. 

For example, Comedy Central’s popular show Drunk History uses alcohol consumption as its main attraction as comedians consume more and more in order to drunkenly retell history. In this case, intoxication is portrayed as harmless and entertaining.

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Limiting Teen Exposure to Alcohol 

Avoiding your teen’s exposure to alcohol in the media entirely is simply not realistic. The most practical step you can take is to educate them on the differences between the representation of alcohol in the media and real life. 

You may not be able to prevent them from drinking alcohol, but you can teach them about responsible use when they’re of age. Take time to teach your teen the risks they’re taking when they choose to consume alcohol, such as injury, hangovers, and unpleasant side effects that the media conveniently excludes.

It’s also a great idea to educate your teen about the motivations behind direct advertising. Inform them that the focus of direct advertising is to promote and sell alcohol and that including the dangerous aspects that come with drinking would not help the companies to sell it. 

Overall, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States, so finding ways to prevent addiction either for yourself or a loved one is crucial. The best way to help a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse is to find inpatient alcohol treatment, such as that offered at Hawaii Island Recovery

Shielding teenagers and young adults from the media is next to impossible. Our society is inundated by influences on our phones, TV, radio, and more. Know that you are not alone if you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one being influenced by the media’s portrayals of drinking alcohol. If you notice symptoms of addiction are present, reach out to us at Hawaii Island Recovery before things spiral out of control. Our rehab in Hawaii offers a comprehensive treatment program in a tranquil and healing environment that includes evidence-based and holistic practices. While we do not treat teenagers, we can help you find the best resources for alcohol treatment centers in Hawaii. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help you and your family. For more information on how we can help you or a family member find treatment, call Hawaii Island Recovery today at (866) 390-5070

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