Does watching MTV increase likelihood of alcohol treatment for adolescents?

image of a teen with a television in need of alcohol treatmentMusic television is popular among teens in Belgium as well as adolescents in the U.S. A great deal of recent research has examined how the portrayal of alcohol use on television impacts adolescent alcohol use. Previous research shows that adolescent alcohol use is associated with higher rates of television viewing in general. Music television often glamorizes alcohol use and contains more alcohol advertisements. Might MTV predict alcohol consumption and the need for alcohol treatment for adolescents? A team of researchers from Belgium examined whether television viewing and music video viewing specifically could predict alcohol consumption among adolescents (Ven den Bulck & Beullens, 2005).

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The researchers recruited a random sample of 1,648 secondary school children in Flanders, Belgium. The researchers collected data from participants in two waves, once in February 2003 (Time 1) and again in February 2004 (Time 2). Self-reported data on alcohol consumption and television viewing were collected. Measures included music video exposure, television viewing volume, quantity of alcohol consumption while going out, pubertal status (measured by the Puberty Development Scale), and smoking status. Controls included gender, age group, smoking behavior, alcohol use at time 1, and pubertal status at time 2.

Predicting the need for adolescent alcohol treatment:

Results showed that overall television viewing and music video viewing at time 1 predicted the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed by adolescents at time 2. Thus, television viewing habits are a significant predictor of adolescent alcohol consumption. The authors point out that television viewing might increase alcohol consumption, or television viewing could be an early symptom of alcohol use.

“Although it may be too early to conclude that watching music videos and watching television encourages adolescents to consume alcohol, the fact remains that in this study respondents who watched more television and were exposed to music television more often were more likely to drink more alcoholic drinks while going out a year later,” the researchers conclude. “At its worst this means that music videos and television might lower the threshold for experimenting with alcohol, at the least it suggests that viewing behaviors are a symptom of developing alcohol habits and as such may serve as an early warning. Therefore, until this relationship and its causal agents have been studied in greater depth it might be safer for practitioners and parents to consider limiting adolescent exposure to televised alcohol use.”

Limiting adolescent exposure to television may not only reduce the likelihood of adolescent alcohol use but it would also likely improve health in general. Previous research suggests that healthy, well-adjusted adolescents with supportive yet firm parents are less likely to experiment with alcohol and develop a disorder requiring alcohol treatment.

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Van den Bulck J, Beullens K. Television and music video exposure and adolescent alcohol use while going out. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2005; 40(3): 249-253.