Early adolescence is a high-risk period for alcohol experimentation and initiation. Adolescent drinking is linked to exposure to alcohol use in the media. This study examined the influence that movie portrayals of drinking may have on the onset of drinking among 6th, 7th and 8th graders, and the impact that viewing the movie with a friend or parent might have. Researchers also examined movie influence across a spectrum of early-drinking milestones: sipping alcohol (but not consuming a full drink), consuming a full drink of alcohol, and engaging in heavy episodic drinking.
Researchers analyzed data taken from a sample of 882 middle-school youth (52% female; 24% non-White) enrolled in an ongoing study on alcohol initiation and progression. They measured exposure to alcohol content in films (with contemporary movies content-coded for the presence of alcohol), estimated the hazard of initiating alcohol use a function of exposure, and adjusted associations for pertinent demographic, personality, and social-influence factors.
Results showed that exposure to alcohol content in the movies was pervasive. Typical adolescents were exposed to hours of on-screen drinking and this exposure predicted an earlier onset of alcohol involvement that included sipping, consuming a full drink, and heavy drinking. Viewing movies with friends appeared to augment the exposure effect, compared to viewing movies with parents, which did not appear to affect alcohol initiation. Study authors recommended further investigation of the influence of alcohol-exposure in films on underage drinking – especially when viewed with friends and peers – as well as limiting exposure and increasing Federal Trade Commission oversight of movie ratings to prevent underage drinking.
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