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Alcohol & Pop Culture Ep 3 – Are You Being Brainwashed?

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By Lauren Brande  | Published 5/29/17

Listen On: SoundCloud | Youtube | iTunes | Google Play

LAUREN BRANDE: Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk Drugs, a podcast discussing the ins and outs of substance abuse. Let’s Talk Drugs is presented by (that’s project k-n-o-w dot com), a website dedicated to providing accurate, easy-to-understand information about drugs to adolescents and their families. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, call us at to speak with a recovery support specialist about getting the help you need.

We’re on the third piece of a four-part series on the interaction between alcohol and pop culture. This episode will discuss the permeation of alcohol throughout our lives, and how that has an impact on actual drinking habits.

Alcohol in the Media [0:48]

LAUREN BRANDE: Alcohol and success are practically synonymous among popular media sources, especially advertising. Commercials advocating the drinking lifestyle tap into our most basic desires in order to hammer in the association of alcohol with sex appeal, money, adventure, and a general happy existence.

On top of this, we experience constant bombardment from music, movies, and television. Our favorite media personalities are often depicted having a great time with their drink always within reach. Add to this the uniting and interactive element of social media, and we’re facing a margarita blend of multiple elements of popular culture that all come together to form an alcohol-driven society.

Advertising [1:29]

LAUREN BRANDE: One of the most impactful depictions of alcohol in popular media comes in the form of advertising. In the 40 years between 1971 and 2011 alcohol advertising expenses increased by nearly 400% (60). The impact of these massive campaigns to promote drinking is clearest in the adolescent population.

Marketing by alcohol companies can span many different outlets—billboards, product placement, event sponsorship, social media, commercials, radio ads, promotional events like tap takeovers, print media, paying businesses money to push their brand, and many, many more.

How many people associate Corona with beautiful vacation beaches, Dos Equis with really interesting bearded men, Hennessey with late-night clubbing, Smirnoff with college house parties, Captain Morgan with pirates and adventure… These incredibly well-calculated brand associations stick with us for a reason: they’re designed to.

“Exposure to alcohol promotion and advertising increases the chance that a non-drinking adolescent will start to drink and a drinking adolescent will drink even more.”

As younger viewers age and are exposed to more and more scenarios where alcohol is available, there is a tendency to gravitate toward the particular brands that they were exposed to (61). In fact, underage drinking has been found to be largely concentrated among particular brands, rather than spread across many different ones (62, 63).

Alcohol companies generally want to foster a brand allegiance as early as possible. This push seems to be even more effective than expected, as exposure to alcohol promotion and advertising increases the chance that a non-drinking adolescent will start to drink and a drinking adolescent will drink even more (64, 65). Exposure to alcohol marketing has been associated with increased rates of binge drinking (66, 67), more positive attitudes toward drinking (68, 69), and hazardous alcohol consumption in general (67) among adolescents.

Effects like these have been found for all kinds of advertising outlets, including television (70), movies (71), music (72), and internet resources (73). Television commercials are a particularly potent form of advertising when it comes to influencing adolescent attitudes surrounding alcohol use.

There is some evidence that certain television time slots expose adolescents to more alcohol commercials than would be expected by chance (74). Kids as young as 7 years old have reported positive explicit and implicit feelings toward alcohol advertisements (75), and implicit positive associations have been found to predict future binge drinking patterns (76).

On top these effective adolescent advertising consequences, we see the glorification of alcohol as it relates to sports, which children and adults alike are frequently exposed to. Advertising for alcoholic beverages, especially beer, is incredibly common both at live sporting events and in the various game broadcast outlets (77, 78, 79). Relating sports to alcohol may even have a positive effect on the perception of the ads themselves, which may translate to positive feelings toward drinking (80).

This culture of advertisement has fostered a society so focused on the drinking routine that many cultural outlets make references to it, often glamorizing and glorifying the alcohol-abusing lifestyle.

Is alcohol wreaking havoc on your life or someone you love? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at and discuss your treatment options.

Popular Culture [4:30]

LAUREN BRANDE: Drinking is also prevalent across numerous popular media sources. Television, movies, and music are expressions of culture that reflect underlying values, expectations, and norms. Somehow alcohol has become a focal piece of the pop culture puzzle, depicted in often favorable light.

Nearly 71% of episodes from top-rated television shows depict alcohol use, and this number seems to be on the rise (81, 82). Almost half of those episodes showing drinking associate it with humor (81).

Within television alcohol depictions, positive drinking messages are more often communicated via subtle visual representation whereas negative messages about alcohol were more often related directly to the plotline and communicated verbally (82). This subtle implementation of positive alcohol messages may have a stronger effect than blatant negative ones because they are not as likely to be heavily scrutinized by viewers.

The feature film industry has also adopted alcohol as a frequent co-star: 83% of top box office hits have been found to contain depictions of alcohol use (83). Almost 60% of popular movies rated G or PG included drinking alcohol, and 20% of these kid-friendly movies referenced a particular brand (83). Visual media keeps alcohol in the public eye as a normal part of everyday life.

Music has always had an association with alcohol. As one of our earliest forms of artistic entertainment, alcohol has a particular presence in song. The long-standing influence of substance use, in general, on creativity and music has set the stage for a wealth of tunes dealing with drinking and alcohol culture. There is an entire branch of European folk music known as drinking songs, often sung in bars and pubs, telling a tale that features heavy drinking themes (84).

Rock and roll’s development from its rhythm-and-blues origins was largely influenced by alcohol (84). Southern rock has been particularly rife with whiskey references, despite the heavy religious influence on these geographical areas- or perhaps, in response to it (84). Rap and hip hop also feature many references to alcohol, especially particular kinds like brandy and Dom Perignon champagne.

“Music has always had an association with alcohol. As one of our earliest forms of artistic entertainment, alcohol has a particular presence in song.”

Alcohol is the second most common substance referred to in popular music, right behind tobacco (85). Each genre has different prevalence rates of alcohol mentions. In 2005, rap led the pack with nearly 77% of rap songs mentioning alcohol of some sort, followed by country music at 36%, R&B and hip hop at 20%, rock at 14%, and pop hits at 9% (85).

Rap and hip hop have experienced a particular rise in alcohol mentions (86), but all popular music genres have been found to associate drinking more with positive outcomes than negative ones, with increasing brand mentions (85, 87, 88, 89). The combination of general positivity toward drinking and specific brand references sets the perfect stage for people to go out and get to downing drinks—after all, they already know what to order.

What does this mean about real people’s drinking habits? [7:32]

No matter the medium, alcoholic media mentions have a clear influence on actual drinking behaviors (70). Television, movies, and music alike have an impact on both the perceptions and enactment of alcohol consumption.

Character portrayals have been found to impact the drinking habits of viewers, particularly males, and particularly while watching the alcohol-depicting film (71, 90). This influence isn’t unique to U.S. citizens—in fact, it has extended to German adolescents that watch U.S. movies, potentially leading to binge drinking (91).

These effects may be mediated by a number of factors similar to the social influence on drinking behaviors, such as expectancies, friends’ use, and willingness to drink in the first place (92, 93). In addition, there seems to be a minor influence of race on these effects, with white adolescents found to be more susceptible to these methods of influence, and social influence in general (93).

Listening to music that references alcohol and drinking has been associated with ever having drank or binge drank, even after controlling for numerous social factors that may influence a person’s alcohol consumption (72). This also extends to recall of particular alcohol brands—listening to alcohol-referencing music is associated with better brand name recollection (72).

The next time you enjoy your favorite TV series, movie, radio program, or playlist try to pay attention to how many alcohol references lie within—you will probably find yourself surprised.

Social Media [9:06]

LAUREN BRANDE: Media has been a long-standing influence on the development of an alcohol-consuming culture, but there is a new form of even more accessible and widespread alcohol-promoting material, and it encompasses all kinds of influence: social media and networking websites.

Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to connect across the globe, sharing ideas, photos, political opinions, status updates, and, embedded in all this… drinking habits. In fact, a surprising number of social networking personal profiles contain references to alcohol (94, 95, 96), and references like these have been found to be related to potential problem drinking and alcohol-related injury (97).

“Not only do college students already tend to overestimate the drinking habits of their peers, but the more alcohol-related content they see on social networking sites like Facebook, the higher, and thus less accurate, their drinking frequency estimate.”

On top of these personal profile references, alcohol companies can create their own profiles for the sole purpose of building and pushing their brand to the websites’ users. Many companies operate multiple accounts across multiple social media websites, and their reach extends to a large amount of adolescent website users (98).

Exposure to this social media marketing has been associated with problem drinking patterns, including social consequences, money problems related to drinking, and injuries. Of course, it could be that individuals predisposed to problem drinking are more likely to expose themselves to online ad campaigns, though it is most likely a two-way interaction (99).

One way that online alcohol marketing has had its effect on people is by establishing misperceptions of drinking norms. Not only do college students already tend to overestimate the drinking habits of their peers (24, 25 26), but the more alcohol-related content they see on social networking sites like Facebook, the higher, and thus less accurate, their drinking frequency estimate (100).

Establishing an inflated drinking norm feeds back into the plethora of research forewarning that perceived social norms likely play a role in actual drinking habits (24, 27). In fact, all across the world, alcohol brands have been found to employ social media advertising efforts that may serve to normalize near-daily consumption (101).

In a way, online social media and networking represents a unification of many different cultural drinking influences: peer perceptions, advertising, movies and television, music, and social connectivity with other drinkers. No matter what outlet a person receives these messages from, they have a clear effect: the more people are exposed to them, the more people drink. ■

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