Public Comment

Behind the Lyrics: Alcohol Marketing and Youth

By Sarah Rodriguez
Wednesday April 01, 2009 - 09:35:00 PM

Can’t tell you what I learned from school 

But I could tell you a story or two. 

Um, yeah, of course I learned some rules 

Like don’t pass out with your shoes on 

And don’t leave the house till the booze gone 

And don’t have sex if she’s too gone 

When it comes to condoms put two on 

Then tomorrow night find a new JAWN 

Hold the beer bong 

Nothing wrong with some fun 

Even if we did get a little just too drunk 

… Man, I love college. 


No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you: that is actually the new hit from a Pennsylvania Rapper named Asher Roth. His song “I Love College” illustrates for us that college binge drinking is still an accepted social norm in our society. And behind the funny lyrics of a song such as Roth’s lies a much scarier reality. Binge drinking among college students 18-24 is a serious public health problem in the United States. According to the Na-tional Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, every year, 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol, while more than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. Some 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes. With the aforementioned statistics in mind we cannot ignore the role of music and media in shaping today’s beliefs and perceptions about alcohol use among youth. The media have played a crucial role in creating an environment in which high-risk activities have become the norm.  

The technological advances of the last few years have resulted in youth listening to an average of 2.5 hours of music per day. With a third of popular music including references to alcohol and drugs, today’s youth are receiving about 35 references to substance abuse for every hour of music they listen to, according to the New York Times. Most disturbing is that consequences of alcohol abuse are being portrayed in a positive light 68 percent of the time. 

In fact, youth are being targeted by the alcohol industry through all types of mass communications. Pay attention to sponsors at the next concert you attend, product placements in the next movie or TV show you watch, or advertisements in magazines targeted to teenagers, and you will see the presence of alcohol marketing infiltrating mediums less obvious than popular music. 

For example, in an attempt to increase revenue during the current economic downturn, the NBA recently voted to repeal an 18-year-old ban on courtside hard liquor advertising. The decision was made in the same week that a British medical journal published a review concluding that alcohol advertising increases the likelihood that adolescents will start drinking. 

If an increased exposure to these messages has resulted in high-risk behaviors and environments becoming normalized in our culture, perhaps our most powerful tool against the negative effects of such messages is to educate youth on how to recognize the media’s potential to influence their choices, spending behaviors, relations to others, and to become more critical consumers of the media in general. And the truth is that youth entering college have already been exposed to mass media that has normalized high risk drinking behaviors, many students have already developed their drinking behaviors by the beginning of high school. It is time we admit that underage and high-risk drinking problems persist among youth because we refuse to hold the alcohol industry in this country accountable. And when will we force the media to be more responsible for the messages they send to youth? Let’s face it folks, enough is enough.