Learn about the effect of media on underage drinking and what you can do to protect your teen.

Media has an influence on teenagers that can lead to changes in behavior and reshape their view of what is normal in society. While the influence of media on youth can be impactful, there are several even stronger influences, including family, especially parents, peers and authority figures. 

Media’s effect on teens can be either direct or indirect. Direct media typically involves media – typically advertising – that deliberately promotes a certain behavior, such as drinking alcohol. An example of this could be an ad that recommends a certain brand of beer. Indirect media is media that does not deliberately promote an activity or behavior through advertising, but may promote a certain stereotype. 

An example of indirect media could be a movie that portrays drinking alcohol at a bar as a good way of forming friendships and meeting new people without displaying the negative effects that drinking can cause.

Teen Exposure to Alcohol in Various Media

One of the uncomfortable facts about teen alcohol use is that almost 70% of high schoolers have had alcohol by their senior year of school. It is likely that alcohol advertising to youth plays a significant role in causing teenagers to use alcohol.

While peer pressure is the main motivator for alcohol use in teens, peer pressure is driven by a desire to be acceptable to a group, and this definition of what is acceptable or expected is often heavily influenced by media. Some of the ways in which teens are exposed to alcohol in media include:

  • Alcohol Use on TV – Teen TV shows such as Pretty Little Liars and Awkward include portrayals of underage drinking in high school and present teen drinking in a positive light.
  • Alcohol Use in Movies – Movies about teenage drugs and alcohol such as the American Pie series, Superbad and Project X all promote underage drinking as a positive and fun activity.
  • Alcohol Use in Music – Alcohol references in teen music are often connected with sex and violence and are increasingly common.

Many movies or TV shows that do not glorify underage drinking still present the regular consumption of alcohol or visiting nightclubs and bars as a normal part of life without any potential consequences. Media that portrays alcohol use often shows positive aspects of alcohol without displaying any of the risks or negative effects that alcohol can create.

Teen Interpretation of Alcohol Advertising

Alcohol use among teens who regularly watch movies that include alcohol use more than doubles the chance that they will start drinking while underage. Alcohol advertising also influences both the amount that teenagers are likely to use and what brand of alcohol they will use. Teenagers who are more compliant with authority or who are not well educated on media are more likely to be influenced by alcohol advertising than teens who are more questioning of authority or teens who have been educated about agendas behind media and advertising. The influence that alcohol advertising has on teens will vary for each teen, based on their background and environmental influences. 

How Celebrities and Music Artists Influence Teen Alcohol Use

Celebrities’ influence on teens as role models is strong because they are widely recognized, rich and seen as always having fun. Teens see the image of them that is portrayed and desire to become what they are, causing them to imitate celebrity lifestyles. Because of the role of drugs and alcohol in the music industry and in movies, celebrities often use alcohol or drugs. This can influence youth to try similar behaviors themselves in an attempt to imitate and become their role models.

Limiting Teen Exposure to Alcohol in Media

Limiting the exposure of your teenager to media that includes alcohol use is ideal, but may not be very realistic. The use of alcohol in media is quite pervasive, and unless you control most of their access to media, it is unlikely that you can stop them from being exposed to media that includes alcohol use. You can, however, educate them on the differences between how alcohol is portrayed in the media and real life. 

Take time to explain to them that alcohol can lead to increased risk of injury, hangovers and several unpleasant side effects that are not shown on TV can help them to understand that what they see on TV about alcohol use is not realistic. Explain to them the risks of alcoholism and how alcohol use can raise their risk of addiction later in life. Also provide them with information about the motivations behind alcohol advertising and how the focus is on selling them an idea, not on accurately portraying the consequences of alcohol use.

If you suspect or know that your teenager uses alcohol, then you should consider seeking immediate professional help. Teenage alcohol use can have a devastating impact on their development and on their future, and immediate intervention is needed to lessen the possible consequences on underage drinking. The Recovery Village has a strong record of helping teens who misuse alcohol to obtain and maintain sobriety. Reach out to one of our understanding team members today to let us know how we can help your family.

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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Raising Children Network (Australia). “Media Influence on Teenagers.” 2019. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use D[…]Research-Based Guide.” Jan. 2014. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

Common Sense Media. “Alcohol, Drugs, and Smoking.” 2019. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

Bellum, Sara. “Teen Party Movies: Epic Adventure or Bad Hangover?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Aug 29, 2012. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “Study: Alcohol in Movies May Lead to Underage Drinking.” Feb. 21, 2012. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Alcohol Advertising and Youth.” April 2007. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

Moreno, Megan A. “Media Influence on Adolescent Alcohol Use.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. July 2011. Accessed Au

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.