Alcohol Ads Leading to Addiction in Youth?

An array of factors – ranging from biological and psychological to socio-cultural and spiritual – are believed to influence alcohol addiction. Among teens, influence groups comprising elder siblings, friends and other social groups play a major role in aggravating the habit of occasional drinking, often leading to an addiction.

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 5 million youth aged between 12 and 20 years reported being binge drinkers, and 1.3 million reported being heavy drinkers. Moreover, underage drinking reportedly caused about 4,300 deaths annually.

Today’s teens are exposed to media and social media. Alcohol advertising on these platforms sways youth and instills habit of drinking. Adolescents are receptive to the persuasive messages shown in these ads and are likely to consume brands advertised on TV and other channels. They mostly comprise the group of teens that gets easily influenced and does not question the act.

Teens also resort to drinking under peer pressure and in social gatherings, such as college or office parties. Further, the feeling of loneliness in them is related to a general negative perception about oneself and one’s relations to other people, which fuels alcoholism.

What do alcohol advertisements convey?

Alcohol ads do not clearly throw the idea of responsible drinking but are primarily based on the idea of promoting the product. In the study published in Drug and alcohol dependence, researchers analyzed all alcohol ads from 2008 to 2010. They noticed that basic health information was missing on most alcohol advertisements.

“While responsibility messages were present in almost nine out of 10 ads, none of them provided any information about what it means to drink responsibly,” says Katherine Clegg Smith, associate professor of health, behavior and society at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Majority of ads responsibility messages were used to convey promotional information, such as appealing product qualities or how the product should be consumed,” she added.

The study concluded by reporting that 87 percent of these ads were based on spreading the responsibility message but none promoted responsible drinking. Only 6 out of 197 ads warned about the ill effects of drinking. As TV commercials and films are highly watched and enjoyed by teens, they get easily influenced by such glamour and promotion.

However, some claim that there is no relationship between alcohol consumption and its advertising. “The contradiction between appearing to promote responsible drinking and the actual use of ‘drink responsibly’ messages to reinforce product promotion suggests that these messages can be deceptive and misleading,” says David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins.

Emotional marketing influences teens

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that alcohol abuse and addiction costs approximately $185 billion a year. According to the Soul City Institute’s advocacy manager, Savera Kalideen, “The alcohol industry is trying to hide behind technical definitions of advertising as the promotion of products and brand competition when the very purpose of promoting a product is to persuade buyers to use or consume it.”