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Alcohol and Health

Alcohol Advertising: What Are the Public Health Effects?

August 30, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 30, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 30, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 30, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
August 30, 2023
18 min read

They’re everywhere: ads, commercials, and reels promoting the indulgence of alcohol. From billboards to TV commercials, radio ads, and social media feeds, we’re continually inundated with content encouraging the use of alcohol for relaxation, socialization, and fun.

Consider, for instance, the Super Bowl – one of the most widely watched events of the year: commercials are dominated by some of the biggest names in alcohol, from Budweiser and Budlight to Crown Royal whisky and Remy Martin cognac. 

So, what sort of effect does all this alcohol advertising have? In this post, we’ll explore the detrimental impact of alcohol advertisements. Let’s dive in. 

Who is Most Affected by Alcohol Ads?

There’s a reason brands and products spend billions of dollars on advertisements every year: they work. Whatever they’re trying to sell, companies find that getting in front of as many people as possible leads to more customers, and thus more revenue. This holds true for products across markets and industries – from cars and phones to food and alcohol.

Part of the reason alcohol advertisements are so concerning is the impact that they’re having on the youth. In fact, young people are the fastest-growing market for viewing alcohol ads, due in large part to social media. Popular social media platforms, such as TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram have provided alcohol companies with new, cheaper ways to promote alcohol to young people. 

Studies indicate that there are over 40,000 ads per year on social media platforms alone. One study in particular found that young people ages 11 to 14 saw an average of three alcohol ads per day, which equates to more than a thousand per year! 

How Do Alcohol Ads Affect the Youth?

So, what’s the effect of all this advertising? Simply put: young people drink more often and more heavily. Studies show that young people who saw more alcohol advertisements drank more. In fact, for each additional ad they saw above the national median, they drank 1 percent more. One study found that for each dollar the alcohol industry spends on youth advertising, young people drink 3 percent more each month. 

They also tend to have more favorable-beliefs about alcohol, as it’s often linked with good feelings, friendship, and success. Young people in markets where there is a saturation of alcohol advertising tend to keep increasing their drinking over time to the point that they consume an average of 50 drinks per month by age 25. 

Interestingly, another study found that younger adolescents are more susceptible to alcohol advertisements shown on TV than older age groups. In other words, they’re more likely to take away a positive reaction to alcohol because of the ads. Sadly, one study found that beer companies' advertising budgets strongly predicted the percentage of students who had heard of, preferred, and tried brands. 

In general, multiple studies link youth exposure to alcohol advertising to the likelihood that kids will begin drinking early; and if they’ve already started drinking, they’ll drink more. 

Which Platforms Are the Youth Being Targeted On?

Ads for alcohol can be found everywhere – from grocery stores and sports stadiums to in between favorite shows and on streaming music apps. Here’s a greater breakdown of how alcohol advertisements are reaching the youth: 

  • Youth magazines: Researchers have found that many of the ads placed in magazines with a high youth readership that appeal to ages 12 to 20 are for beverages that appeal to young drinkers. Drinks known as low-alcohol refreshers and “malternatives” are advertised specifically in the youth market.
  • One study of magazine advertising found that 23 percent of ads for adult alcoholic beverages appeared in magazines with high youth readership, and almost 43 percent of ads for youth alcoholic beverages were placed in the same magazines.
  • Youth radio stations: Studies of radio advertising have found that young people age 12 to 20 heard 8 percent more beer and ale advertising and 12 percent more “malternative” advertising than adults. Furthermore, youth heard 14 percent more ads for distilled spirits or hard liquor.
  • Research indicates that 73 percent of alcohol radio advertising was placed on stations with Rhythmic Contemporary Hit, Pop Contemporary Hit, Urban Contemporary, and Alternative formats – the type of music that attracts a disproportionately large listening audience of 12- to 20-year olds.
  • Social media platforms: Reports indicate that youth as young as 13 have unrestricted access to alcohol advertising on social media platforms. Despite having regulations which should limit ads to youth, alcohol brands were found to send alcohol advertisements directly to underage profiles on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter.

What Specific Youth Groups Are Being Targeted?

Sadly, some studies have found that alcohol ads are targeted at specific groups deemed more likely to be vulnerable. For instance, researchers found that magazine ads targeted girls more than boys with ads for beer and ale, distilled spirits, and low-alcohol refreshers. 

The Black and Hispanic youth communities are also being targeted by the alcohol industry. For instance, one study found that Black teens were exposed to 32 percent more ads in magazines, 17 percent on television, and 20 percent more distilled spirits on the radio. The study noted that Black and Hispanic communities were particularly overexposed to radio advertising. The Hispanic youth heard 34 percent more beer and ale ads on the radio than Hispanic adults. 

How Are Alcohol Companies Allowed to Target Young People?

Interestingly, the alcohol industry has vowed to self-regulate to keep their advertisements away from the eyes of children. They’ve voluntarily imposed a 30 percent limit on itself for the size of the underage audience for its advertising. These regulations cover how companies should place their ads on television, internet sites, social media, radio stations, and more.

Sadly, researchers have consistently found that alcohol advertisers routinely violate these codes. Study after study shows that America’s youth are exposed to much more booze advertising. One meta-analysis found 57 studies that showed high levels of youth exposure to and awareness of alcohol ads on television, radio, print, digital, and outdoor advertisements. 

One study published in the Journal of Public Health Policy found that youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television has grown faster than adult exposure. The authors of the study found that modifying advertisers’ practices would result in the same or similar adult exposure but could drastically reduce youth exposure to alcohol ads. 

Furthermore, while people can file a complaint if they believe an alcohol advertiser has violated the industry’s self-regulations, research has found that these systems don’t work as well. People have routinely noted that processes aren’t standardized and involve inadequately trained or biased staff. Complaints are rarely upheld. 

The bottom line? The current self-regulatory systems that govern alcohol marketing practices among youth simply aren’t working. 

What About the “Drink Responsibly” Advertisements?

We’ve probably all seen or heard them: commercials from alcohol advertisers reminding us of the dangers of underage drinking and warning against drinking and driving. The problem? These ads are quite rare. 

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) found that underage drinkers were 96 percent more likely to see an ad for a specific alcoholic beverage than they were to see one discouraging underage drinking. 

In other words, advertisements for alcoholic beverages outnumber the industry’s “responsibility” ads. 

The Problem With Early On-Set Drinking

Alcohol advertising targeting the youth and the resulting impact of increased alcohol consumption can have significant consequences. Here’s a look at some of the effects of underage drinking: 

  • Damages the developing brain: Research shows that our brains keep developing well into our 20s. Alcohol can alter this development, potentially affecting both brain structure and function. This can cause cognitive or learning problems. 
  • Causes many deaths: Alcohol is a significant factor in the deaths of people younger than 21. In fact, it’s the leading cause of driving fatalities.Roughly 5,000 people under 21 die from alcohol-related deaths every year. This includes deaths from moto vehicle crashes, homicides, alcohol overdoses, falls, burns, drowning, and suicides. 
  • Causes many injuries: Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of youth having accidents or getting hurt. On average, nearly 200,000 people younger than 21 visit an emergency room for alcohol-related injuries every year. 
  • Increases risk of physical and sexual assault: Young people who drink alcohol are more likely to carry out or be the victim of sexual assault. Underage binge drinking in particular is associated with an increased likelihood of being the victim or perpetrator of interpersonal violence. 
  • Can lead to other problems: Drinking may cause youth to have trouble in school or with the law. Drinking alcohol is also associated with the use of other substances and drugs.
  • Increases risk of alcohol use disorder: Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are at a higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life. For example, adults aged 26 and older who began drinking before age 15 are 3.5 times more likely to report having AUD in the past year than those who waited until age 21 or later to begin drinking.

How Can We Protect Youth From Alcohol Ads?

Sadly, ads for alcohol don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. However, parents and teachers can play an important role in shaping youth’s attitudes toward drinking. Parents in particular can have either a positive or negative influence. Here are some tips for helping child avoid alcohol problems:

  • Talk to children about the dangers of drinking
  • Role model good behavior: drink responsibility, if choosing to drink at all
  • Don’t provide alcohol to children or make it easily accessible 
  • Get to know children’s friends
  • Connect with other parents about sending clear messages about the importance of youth not drinking alcohol
  • Supervise all parties to make sure there is no alcohol
  • Encourage kids to participate in healthy and fun activities that don’t involve alcohol (such as sports, exercise, creative arts, etc.)

Research shows that children of actively involved parents are less likely to drink alcohol. However, if parents provide alcohol to their kids (even small amounts), have positive attitudes about drinking, and engage in alcohol misuse, adolescents have an increased risk of misusing alcohol. 

Some warning signs that may indicate underage drinking include changes in mood, including anger and irritability, academic or behavioral problems in school, rebelliousness, changes in friend groups, low energy level, less interest in activities or care in appearance, problems concentrating or remembering.

The Bottom Line

Alcohol advertising is pervasive and widespread, reaching nearly every corner of our life. While we are all susceptible to its influence, children and youth are particularly vulnerable. Sadly, research shows that they’re being targeted across platforms. Even though the alcohol industry has vowed to limit exposure to youth, studies find that they continue to be exposed to alcohol ads in great numbers. Underage drinking brings with it a variety of consequences, including brain damage and an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder. If you or an adolescent you know is drinking alcohol, make sure to tell someone and get help right away. 

If alcohol is causing problems in your own life, consider trying Reframe. We’re a research-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyles. 

Summary FAQs

1. Who is most affected by alcohol ads? 

Alcohol advertisements are greatly influencing the youth and adolescents. Young people are the fastest growing market for viewing alcohol ads, due in large part to social media. 

2. Which platforms are the youth being targeted on?

Alcohol advertisements are reaching the youth across platforms, most notably in magazines, radio stations, TV commercials, and social media. 

3. How do alcohol ads affect the youth?

Research shows that the more alcohol ads adolescents see, the more likely they are to drink. If they’re already drinking, they’re more likely to increase their consumption of alcohol. 

4. Are certain youth groups targeted more than others?

Research indicates that vulnerable groups, such as adolescent girls and the Hipanic and Black youth, are being targeted in particular.

5. What are some of the risks associated with underage drinking?

Adolescents who consume alcohol are at greater risk for brain damage, injury, physical and sexual assault, death, and alcohol-use disorder.

6. How can we help protect the youth from alcohol advertisements? 

Parents and teachers can play a role in protecting the youth by talking to them about the dangers of alcohol, role modeling responsible drinking, not providing alcohol, supervising social gatherings, and encouraging children to engage in healthy and fun activities that don’t involve alcohol.

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