Whether we like to admit it or not, what we see on TV, advertisements and movies significantly impacts the way we think. Therefore, it is no surprise that the glamorization of alcohol on television has been linked to the rise of substance abuse in young and working-aged individuals.
According to a study done by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, alcohol is the number one drug among young people and is responsible for over 4,000 deaths per year, yet its advertising is predominantly regulated only by the industry itself through implementing a voluntary code.
This voluntary code is responsible for the tagline “drink responsibly” that can be (maybe) be seen in tiny letters underneath millions of dollars spent on alcohol TV advertisement. In fact, a study conducted between 2001 and 2003 reported that American teens saw on average 779 TV commercials selling alcohol, and only 9 commercials directed toward the perils of underage drinking, a huge public concern. Research shows that along with risk factors like mood disorders and depression, individuals that consume alcohol prior to the drinking age of 21 are four times more likely to struggle with alcohol addiction later in life.
This influence does not just stop with advertisements. A 2009 study published in the Alcohol and Alcoholism Journal reported people are more likely to turn to alcohol while watching TV if drinking is portrayed in the movie or TV show itself. This fact prompted me to take a look at some of my own favorite shows and see just how often a character in it is drinking an alcoholic beverage. “Modern Family”, “The Big Bang Theory”, “Scandal” and even “The Walking Dead”, all portrayed drinking alcohol in a relatively positive light, as a way to relax and “cope” with distressing events or feelings. For example Scandal’s heroine, Olivia Pope is almost always portrayed at home with a gigantic glass of wine in hand. I won’t even get started on discussing the amount of alcohol shown on the “Real Housewives” franchises.
As online streaming companies like HULU and Netflix continue to grow, advertisers will be relying heavily on product placement to combat the lack of commercials being shown. Some shows are already doing this heavy-handedly, for example if you watch NBC’s “The Voice”, you have probably noticed a Starbucks cup next to every judge.
The connection between alcohol and TV is nothing new. In addition to the numerous studies I mention above, there have been at least a dozen other long-term studies that have concluded the more young people are exposed to alcohol in media, the more likely they are to drink. With online marketing growing and product placement advertisements expanding, we may benefit from at least being aware of how pop-culture may be influencing our thoughts and behaviors.