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Onset of Teenage Drinking Swayed by Alcohol Use in Movies

Social scientists regularly lament that the bad habits of movie stars and rock and roll artists hold sway over decisions that teenagers make about the use of alcohol and drugs. In a study recently reported in the open access BMJ Journal, investigators from a variety of American research universities reported on a study of over 6,000 U.S. adolescents who were followed and surveyed at regular intervals over a two-year period. Researchers investigated the influence of peer and family factors, as well as media alcohol exposure, as it related to the onset of drinking and to the time involved for a transition to incidence of binge drinking. Investigators also assessed risk factors to drinking such as adolescent reported peer alcohol use, frequency of parental alcohol use, availability of alcohol at home, perceived authoritative parenting, receptivity to alcohol marketing, and movie alcohol exposure.  


The results of the study confirm the intuition of many parents and adolescent substance abuse experts. After controlling for demographic variables, high peer alcohol abuse was the most powerful predictor of a start-up to drinking. Drinking onset was next most impacted by high movie exposure to alcohol. The rest of the influences ranked as follows in descending order: less-authoritative parenting (lax standards; flip-flopping), alcohol availability in the home, receptivity to alcohol marketing, and parental alcohol use. Of special interest was that high peer alcohol use was a very strong indicator as to the transition from the onset of drinking to the point where binge drinking began. Peer pressure and social conformity play an evident roll in triggering the initiation of the dangerous behaviors and habits associated with binge drinking.  

This study did not directly address the roll that the mentioned factors play in the initiation of illicit drug use (i.e. cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy etc.). Intuitively, however, it seems that movie exposure to drugs and soft parental stances on those issues would be catalysts in the onset of illicit substances. Nevertheless, this study is a pertinent reminder that an authoritative parental style can decrease the likelihood that adolescents will begin drinking. Parents who are firm and who adhere to rules and standards relating to alcohol consumption should be encouraged to not give in to pushback by their children. Parents who take tough stances with alcohol appear to be more successful than those who do not. But of most interest here is the dynamic effect that alcohol exposure in movies has on both onset to drinking and transition to binge drinking. The authors estimate that movie alcohol exposure accounts for 28% of transitions to drinking and 20% of transitions to binge drinking. Perhaps this data will prompt industry leaders to exert better control over content that deals with alcohol and drug abuse, especially in movies viewed by younger audiences.




Stoolmiller M et al. Comparing media and family predictors of alcohol use: A cohort study of US adolescents. BMJ Open 2012 Feb 20; 2:e000543.

From Medtox Journals

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