Alcohol in movies influences young teens’ drinking habits

Young teens who watch a lot of movies featuring alcohol are twice as likely to start drinking compared to peers who watch relatively few such films, reveals research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

And these teens are significantly more likely to progress to binge drinking, the study shows.

The findings prompt the researchers to suggest that Hollywood should adopt the same restrictions for alcohol product placement as it does for tobacco.

They base their findings on a representative sample of more than 6500 US teens between the ages of 10 and 14, who were regularly quizzed about their consumption of alcohol and potentially influential factors over the next two years.

These factors included movie viewing and marketing; the home environment; peer behaviour; and personal rebelliousness.

The teens were asked which randomly selected 50 movies they had seen from among the top 100 US box office hits in each of the preceding five years, plus 32 films grossing more than US $15 million in the first quarter of 2003 - the year of the first survey.

The number of seconds of on-screen alcohol use, including product placement, in each of these 532 films was measured by trained coders. Given the movies they reported seeing, adolescents had typically seen an estimated 4.5 hours of on screen alcohol use and many had seen in excess of eight hours.

Young People and Alcohol

More than 10 million current drinkers in the United States are between the ages of 12-20. Of these young drinkers, 20% engage in binge drinking and 6% are heavy drinkers.[1]

On average, young people begin drinking at 13.1 years of age.[2]

By the time they are high school seniors, more than 80% have used alcohol and approximately 62% have been drunk.[3]

Girls are beginning to drink at younger ages. In the 1960s, 7% of 10- to 14-year-old females used alcohol; by the early 1990’s, that figure had risen to 31%.[4]

Due to heavy or binge drinking, nearly one out of every five teenagers (16%) has experienced “black outs,” after which they could not remember what happened the previous evening. [5]

Young people have easy access to alcohol. In alcohol purchase attempts made by researchers across the U.S., buyers who appeared to be underage were able to purchase alcohol with no questions asked at least 50% of the time. [6]


1. Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 2000.
2. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Main Findings 1998, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
3. Monitoring the Future Study, University of Michigan, 2000.
4. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse Among Women in the U.S. United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.
5. Summary Findings American Academy of Pediatrics Survey: Teen Alcohol Consumption, American Academy of Pediatrics, September 1998.
6. Wagenaar, Alexander C., “Alcohol Compliance Checks: A Procedures Manual for Enforcing Age-of-Sale Laws,” University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program, May, 2000, p 6.

Around one in 10 of the teens (11%) said they owned branded merchandise, such as a T shirt or hat with the name of a beer/wine/spirit on it. And nearly one in four (23%) said their parents drank alcohol at least once a week at home; 29% said they were able to get hold of alcohol at home.

Over the course of the two years, the proportion of teens who started drinking alcohol more than doubled from 11% to 25%, while the proportion who began binge drinking - defined as five or more drinks in a row - tripled from 4% to 13%.

Parents who drank at home, and availability of alcohol in the home, were associated with taking up drinking, but not progression to binge drinking.

Exposure to alcohol in movies, owning branded merchandise, having friends who drank, and rebelliousness were associated with both.

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