Binge Drinking: Teens, Alcohol & Advertising

by Above it All Treatment Centers

Binge Drinking: Teens, Alcohol & Advertising


Our friends at Above it All Treatment Centers were generous enough to share a timely article about teens and binge drinking.  With the end of summer, this long holiday weekend and the fall season of school and sporting events right around the corner, now is the perfect time to talk to your teen about drinking, drug use and other social activities they may encounter. 

If you need help beginning this conversation, there are resources out there to help you.  Above it All is a great place to start. 


Teenage Binge Drinking

Teenage binge drinkinghas long been an issue, but marketing campaigns by the alcohol industry are exacerbating the problem. The link between alcohol advertising and teen choices in drinking has been examined in numerous studies and has been shown to be causative and consequential.

Advertising for alcohol products is ubiquitous. All forms of media—television, magazines, and the internet—along with billboards, movie product placements, and other displays make exposure unavoidable. This bombardment of imagery, the sole purpose of which is to make alcohol attractive, comes on top of the glamorization of alcohol that is inherent in popular culture and entertainment from films to rock lyrics.

With the job of making alcohol consumption culturally acceptable already done for them, manufacturers of alcoholic beverages are concerned with how to get the biggest slice of the consumer pie for themselves.

One challenge is how to appeal to teens without seeming to try, which would run them afoul of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), among other watchdogs. The dilemma is similar to the one faced by the tobacco industry, which would love to capture the underage market but has been constrained by authorities.

Teens, according to several studies, show brand loyalty when it comes to their alcohol choices. According to a recent report in the Journal of Substance Abuse, Bud Lite, Jack Daniels, and Smirnoff head the list of choices among 13- to 20-year-olds who binge drink. Additionally, according to a study at Boston University, moderate drinking among teens is the exception rather than the norm: 67 percent of all drinking in that age group qualifies as binge drinking. Out of 900 brands of alcohol available, the top 25 brands make up nearly half of those chosen by teens for binge consumption.

A Rand Corporation study in 2006 concluded that:

  • Exposure to advertising by the alcohol industry is directly linked to adolescent drinking.
  • Nearly half of 7th-graders who did not drink became drinkers within two years.
  • The more ads kids were exposed to during the 8th grade, the greater chance they would be consumers of alcohol by the 9th grade.


The study also indicated that non-drinking teens were more influenced by magazine, concession stand, and in-store display advertising than by TV, although sports-event beer ads are highly influential.


The FTC, which—among other things—oversees advertising policies, sponsors a “We Don’t Serve Teens” campaign. One of its provisions is to help parents demonstrate the insidious nature of the liquor industry’s promotion efforts by engaging their teens with questions like:


  • Who created the ad, and why?
  • What do they want you to do?
  • How does this ad make you feel?
  • What message is this ad trying to get you to believe?

The intent is to get teens to question the truthfulness of advertising and to buffer them from manipulation.

The Dangers of Teenage Binge Drinking

The dangers of Teenage Binge Drinking are very clear, and include:

  • Fatalities—More than 1100 teens die each year in auto accidents involving underage drinking, and that doesn’t include the consequent deaths of adults. Furthermore, the majority of teen deaths attributable to alcohol are other than traffic-related and include homicides, suicides, falls, alcohol poisonings, and drownings.
  • In 2011, nearly 190,000 teens visited hospital emergency rooms as a result of alcohol consumption.
  • Altered brain development—Heavy use of alcohol during teen years can cause cognitive impairment
  • Risky sex behavior—Alcohol promotes sexual activity among teens, including risky sex, failure to use birth control, sex with strangers, and nonconsensual sex.
  • Poor grades—A 2007 study showed that two thirds of A students were nondrinkers, while nearly half of the D and F students reported binge drinking.
  • Socialization problems—Teen drinking tends to mask other problems, including mental health issues like depression and anxiety disorders. Alcohol use may work as a social lubricant on a superficial level but tends toward isolation if continued.

Recommendations regarding teenage binge drinking include early intervention, counseling, and treatment for alcohol addiction. However, policy having to do with the alcohol industry’s manipulation of young people’s perceptions about alcohol has to be reviewed and measures put into place to reverse the current trend.

1 Comment

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