Alcohol Advertising Affecting Adolescents

Remember all those great Super Bowl ads for beer? According to a study by researchers at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) and Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), seeing and liking alcohol advertising on television among underage youth was associated with the onset of drinking, binge drinking and hazardous drinking. Alcohol is the most common drug used by young people. In 2013, 66.2 percent of U.S. high school students reported trying alcohol, 34.9 percent reported alcohol use in the past 30 days and 20.8 percent reported recent binge drinking.

The alcohol industry claims that their advertising self-regulation program protects underage youth from seeing their ads and does not affect underage drinking. Furthermore, they claim, parents and friends influence teens to experiment more than advertising does. This study suggests otherwise; that underage youth are exposed to and engaged by alcohol marketing. In addition, advertising prompts initiation of drinking as well as transitions from initial experimentation to hazardous drinking.

James D. Sargent, MD, senior author on the study and a CHaD pediatrician claims:

“Our study found that familiarity with and response to images of television alcohol marketing was associated with the subsequent onset of drinking across a range of outcomes of varying severity among adolescents and young adults, adding to studies suggesting that alcohol advertising is one cause of youth drinking. Current self-regulatory standards for televised alcohol advertising appear to inadequately protect underage youth from exposure to televised alcohol advertising and its probable effect on behavior.”

In 2011 and again in 2013, 1596 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 23 years completed a research survey. The surveys examined recall of more than 300 television-advertising images for top beer and distilled spirits brands that aired nationally in 2010-11. The authors derived an alcohol receptivity score based on having seen the ad, liking it and correctly identifying the brand.

Receptivity to television alcohol advertising predicted the transition to multiple drinking outcomes. The findings are consistent with the idea that marketing self-regulation has failed to keep television alcohol advertising from reaching large numbers of underage persons and affecting their drinking patterns. In the U.S. alone, producers of alcohol spend billions of dollars annually marketing their products, which includes television marketing. Advertising does work, thus the huge amounts spent to promote brand recognition by targeting current and future consumers.

Therefore parents need to be involved in discussions with their children about alcohol. Kids need boundaries in their lives that reflect their age and responsibility, so parents need to tell them not to drink and tell them why. A parent’s attitude affects a kid’s attitude, and subsequently drinking in general.

Other supporting research was recently published. University at Buffalo psychologist, Craig Colder said:

What our data is suggesting is that you can’t control all of your kids’ decisions, but you can help them to make good choices in situations where alcohol is available. You want kids to think about and reflect upon the pros and cons of drinking based on your previous discussions.”

Young people listen a lot more to what their parents and role models say than some adults give them credit for. Prevention started at a young age is encouraged; kids grow up fast. Continuing the conversation until children are grown-up gives the best chance for successfully influencing your kids’ decisions.

Talk to a health care professional for more information about substance abuse.