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Three Demographics Most Negatively Affected By Alcohol Advertising

We live in a world bombarded with instant access to much of the world’s knowledge and most of the world’s products; our pockets vibrate with notifications, alerts, and reminders to stay online, to remain connected. The way we intake information about alcohol and the newest fads, trends, and flavors is no different. What is different is the ever-changing societal culture in which we all observe, absorb, and in many cases imbibe. Alcohol marketing targets several demographics of the population more than others: those who are underage, women, and communities of color.

Young People Are Susceptible To The Draw Of Branded Advertisements

Statistics show that by the time individuals reach their senior year of high school, nearly 62% will have tried alcohol. There are, of course, many factors at play when calculating causes for such a percentage, but it would stand to reason that the amount of time teens spend “online,” from YouTube to streaming series on Netflix, is a high contender. Over the years, there have been many studies that show a relationship between the content kids and teens engage with and underage alcohol consumption. While there is not exclusive, conclusive data currently, organizations are working to change that.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) has several active projects that aim to both protect young people from underage drinking and keep the alcohol industry mindful and responsible. Through research and in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO), CAMY intends to raise awareness of 3 pillars of consumption: physical availability, alcohol pricing, and alcohol marketing. One project, Alcohol Brand Research Among Underage Drinkers (ABRAND), funded by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), aims to determine the relationship of specific, branded advertising of various alcohol companies and underage drinking. They hypothesize that by raising awareness, alcohol advertising could parallel that of tobacco companies and increase intentional regulations.

College Students At Risk

Social media and the constant ease with which we are able to simply pull out a phone and scroll through another’s highlight reel gives unrealistic expectations and assumptions about everyone else’s lives. In a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 53% of full-time college students between the ages of 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month and around 30% engaged in binge-drinking behaviors (defined as 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for men and 4 or more for women). Because social media is how many interact with their peers and friends, students feel compelled to post their nights (and/or days) of drinking to various outlets like Snapchat and Instagram. It’s a toxic, perpetual cycle though—various research has shown that students who view friends’ profiles and posts about drinking are more likely to drink more themselves and post it, too.

This skewed perception of reality encourages young people to not only stay connected to their friends and their phones, but to engage in dangerous, risky behaviors. It creates a disconnect between how much students think other students are drinking versus how much they are actually drinking.

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Women And The Danger Of Pointed Alcohol Marketing

Largely speaking, the ways we view, speak about, and (sometimes) pay women has changed rather drastically in the last decade or so. The same is true for the ways in which alcohol companies attempt to pointedly advertise to women, in many ways alluding to the old “if only you had these various tangible/consumable items, you, too, could be as happy/beautiful/successful as these women” trope. Now though, the perception of what women are looking for in many aspects of their lives such as empowerment, relaxation, and friendship are the targeted topics for alcohol marketing. Professor of substance use and misuse from Glasgow Caledonian University, Carol Emslie has found that much alcohol advertising lately capitalizes on the ways in which many women maintain their identities throughout various stages in their lives. She also recognizes the danger of such poignant marketing ploys, “What we need to remember is that alcohol advertising normalises drinking. Young people—our daughters—are consuming the same media and taking in the same alcohol messages as adults,” Emslie says.

What’s arguably more concerning, is the widespread normalization and use of terms and phrases like “mommy juice,” “wine o’ clock,” and “prosecco made me do it,” especially as we continue to navigate through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These seemingly innocent colloquialisms are actually anything but as they romanticize and enable the use of alcohol as self-medication, especially for a demographic of the population who deals with a lot of stress and anxiety: moms. Especially considering the recent uptick in women’s alcohol consumption; in 2019, 4% of women between the ages of 18-25 had an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Communities Of Color Disproportionally Affected By Alcohol Marketing

Statistics have shown significant discrepancies in the healthcare sector regarding communities of color; the same is true for the effects of alcohol, both in the consumption and the marketing practices. For a demographic of people already underserved, addiction and treatment resources are that much harder to access and utilize. According to one study, Black youth were exposed to an average of 4.1 alcohol advertisements in a day and Hispanic youth saw an average of 3.4, both communities nearly double that of the White youth community whose average was closer to 2 ads per day. Another study noted how addiction disproportionally affects people of color because there is a lack of access to treatment facilities, as well as a higher dropout rate when individuals are admitted.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and a group/training program called Recognizing and Eliminating disparities in Addiction through Culturally informed Healthcare (REACH) understand the various crises affecting marginalized and underrepresented demographics. The latter has a SAMHSA-funded grant and provides training services for various positions within the medical field. Support (and eventual policy change) is increasingly important to strive for eventual equity among communities given the number of musical artists and other celebrities signing with various alcohol companies.

New Policies And Getting Help

Recently, big-name brands were working toward developing more rigorous standards when it comes to the ways in which they market their products and making it a clear and poignant point to only advertise to those of drinking age. As a platform used by those of all ages, YouTube will no longer allow for advertisements promoting topics such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, and politics.

Nevertheless, even without extended screen or social media time, temptations lurk around the corners and addiction can strike, sometimes without warning. If you or someone you know and love is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out and get the help you need. No one should suffer alone; contact a treatment provider today to learn more.

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