Youth, the Movies, and Binge Drinking

Youth, the Movies, and Binge Drinking

March 5th, 2012

When my brother and I were young, television and movies affected us probably more than
we were willing to admit.  My brother, for instance, constantly called people “fools” and “idiots” after learning these insults from 101 Dalmatians villain Cruella de Vil, and I was constantly asking myself, “What would Chuck Norris do?” Our parents, aware of entertainment’s evil influence over us, banned many television shows and movies from our young, impressionable eyes and ears, from crude movies like Jim Carey’s The Mask, to violent television shows like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. We were, however, allowed to watch Star Wars (thank heavens), which, as you might guess, launched us into full on lightsaber (a.k.a. plastic baseball bat) battles in the backyard (out of our parents’ sight, of course). These battles were epic, let me tell you. But the fun all ended when I determined to Jango Fett my brother and decapitate him. You might not know this, but after a crying brother runs to mommy, Jedi are no longer allowed to duel.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that entertainment influenced my brother and me to make bad choices. But it’s all normal and  harmless, right? Actually, the entertainment youth experience may have greater implications. According to a recent study, movies portraying alcohol consumption can be an influential factor in causing young people to binge drink. The study took place in Europe, where a correlation was found across six countries with different cultural experiences of alcohol.

How did they do it? Researchers compiled a list of 250 the top-grossing films in Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Scotland, and coded each for portrayed alcohol use. Students aged 10 to 19 were then asked if they had seen any of 50 randomly selected films on the list, as well as if they had ever participated in binge drinking. 

The results showed a significant association between exposure to movies depicting drinking and adolescent binging (β-coefficient 0.12, P<0.001). It is worth noting that the study at best depicts an correlation (watching alcohol-heavy movies may have influenced students to binge drink, but prior binge drinking may also have influenced students to seek out alcohol-heavy movies after the fact).  The fact that similar results were found across countries suggests that  cultural differences in attitudes towards alcohol

They watch a lot of movies.

have limited influence, compared to media exposure, on adolescent binge drinking.


No doubt, we get plenty of alcoholic media content in America as well. Besides television and film, we see it in advertisements, which are often geared toward younger demographics. And while there’s nothing wrong with having a good time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s fact sheet on binge drinking reports that 90% of youth under the age of 21 binge drink, while another fact sheet on underage drinking reports that 10% of underage drinkers drive after consuming alcohol, and 28% rode with a driver who had been consuming alcohol. The worry here is safety. While media may make drinking look cool and sexy, there is always another side to alcohol consumption—a side that killed 10, 839 people in 2009 from drunk driving, alone.

So while the young people of today may think it’s pretty cool that their favorite movie star can pound a few beers, kick  butt in a bar fight, and then get the girl, remember that there’s a side we’re not seeing. My advice? Take it easy. Maybe play Hungry Hungry Hippos instead. Whatever happened to that game anyway?

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