Alcohol commercials on television affect drinking behavior and alcohol recovery

The following study would be useful in a self-empowering addiction treatment program where individuals learn strategies to help them cope with cravings such as those experienced when viewing alcohol related commercials and other media.

Tobacco advertising has been minimized in many locations. Alcohol advertising, on the other hand, is generally accepted in Western societies. Alcohol advertisements on television and the portrayal of drinking in movies paint a positive picture of an addictive and potentially deadly substance. A number of past studies have found an association between alcohol advertising and drinking behavior, and some suggest that exposure to alcohol via television or cinema may lead to a relapse in alcohol recovery. A team of researchers from Canada and The Netherlands set out to conduct a randomized controlled experiment to test whether exposure to alcohol on television affects actual drinking behavior (Engels et. al., 2009).

The researchers recruited 80 male university students between the ages of 18 and 29. Participants were asked to bring a male friend. Researchers asked participants to invite a friend to encourage participants to feel free to drink during the experiment. The 40 pairs of friends were randomly assigned to one of four conditions (with 20 males in each condition): alcoholic movie with neutral commercials and alcohol commercials; alcoholic movie with neutral commercials; non-alcoholic movie with neutral and alcohol commercials; and non-alcoholic movie with neutral commercials. The experiment was conducted in a naturalistic setting – a bar laboratory.

The movie “American Pie 2″ was used as the alcoholic movie, and the movie “40 Days and 40 Nights” was used as the non-alcoholic movie. In “American Pie 2,” characters drank alcohol 18 times, and alcohol was portrayed an additional 23 times. In “40 Days and 40 Nights,” alcohol was consumed by characters 3 times and portrayed 15 times. Measures in the study included appreciation of the movie (using a 5-point rating scale), familiarity with the movie, and alcohol consumption (self-reports and observational data).

The results showed that participants who received substantial alcohol exposure in either the movie or commercials consumed more alcohol than other participants. On average, these participants drank 1.5 more glasses in an hour than those in a condition with no alcoholic portrayal. These results suggest a causal link between exposure to drinking on television and actual alcohol consumption.

“Implication of these findings may be that, if moderation of alcohol consumption in certain groups is strived for, it may be sensible to cut down on the portrayal of alcohol in programs aimed at these groups and the commercials shown in between,” the authors conclude. “Another implication may be that in situations in which this is possible (e.g. cinemas), availability of alcohol should be reduced when movies and commercials contain alcohol portrayal and individuals in a group at risk for problematic drinking are present. All in all, it can be concluded that, for young adult males, the portrayal of alcohol on a television screen might lead to increased alcohol consumption.”

This research raises the question of whether alcohol-related stories in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings could potentially trigger a relapse.

Engels RCME, Hermans R, Van Baaren RB, Hollenstein T, Bot SM. Alcohol portrayal on television affects actual drinking behavior. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2009; 44(3): 244-249.

http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/44/3/244