The media seems to have a particular influence over teen choices about drinking. Research has shown that alcohol in music, movies and television can impact their decisions about whether to imbibe — and what.
A study by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that alcohol is widely portrayed in popular music in a positive light. The study, the first to measure mentions of specific brands in popular music, identified four brands that make up more than half of the specific instances: Hennessy cognac, Patron tequila, Jack Daniels whiskey and Grey Goose vodka.
The analysis was based on Billboard magazine’s listings of the most popular songs from 2009-2011, and the findings appear in an online version of the journal Substance Use & Misuse.
The study found that the mentions of alcohol were overwhelmingly presented in a positive light in the songs, and negative consequences associated with alcohol use were rarely presented.
Urban songs reference alcohol the most
The researchers examined 720 songs in total, with 167, or 23.2%, mentioning alcohol. In addition, 46, or 6.4%, mentioned an alcohol brand. The alcohol mentions were most often found to be contained within urban songs, including hip-hop, rap and R&B and accounted for 37.7% of the songs mentioning alcohol. Country was the category with the next highest content of alcohol mentions, 21.8%, and pop music had 14.9% mentions.
They categorized each alcoholic reference in the lyrics of each song to brand references, both in negative and positive contexts.
Among the 167 songs that contained an alcohol reference, there were trends observed related to which types of alcohol were mentioned in certain genres of music. Tequila, vodka, cognac and champagne are more likely to be mentioned in urban songs, while whiskey and beer were more likely to be mentioned in country or pop songs. None of the rock music examined contained references to alcohol.
Given that teenagers spend many hours per day listening to music the mentions of alcohol could serve as a significant contributor of promotion for alcohol use, says the study’s co-author David Jernigan, Ph.D., director of CAMY.
The dangers of teen drinking
Early alcohol use is a significant concern because it is associated with many negative outcomes. Those who begin drinking during adolescence could be causing damage to their rapidly-developing brain, altering structures that contribute to cognitive functions.
In addition, when individuals begin drinking in their teen years they may be more likely to develop an addiction by the time they enter early adulthood. Early adulthood is a time when individuals are making important decisions about careers and may even begin a family, so it is an especially critical time to have control over alcohol-related decisions.
Teens may also be increasing the risk that they will experience negative health consequences related to drinking. Heart disease and certain types of cancer are linked with alcohol consumption, and individuals that begin drinking in their teen years versus in adulthood expose their bodies to those risks for a longer period of time.
Parent’s involvement in music choices
Parents should pay attention to what their teens are listening to, especially any lyrics about drinking. They can also make their rules related to alcohol clear, including a discussion about consequences for not following the rules.
Teens that are aware that the music they listen to may include veiled messages about values related to drinking alcohol can make more informed decisions related to alcohol consumption.