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Media Influence on Alcohol Consumption

Media Influence on Alcohol Consumption (Advertising and Social Media)

Posted: October 19, 2020 by in Hope Recovery Addiction Center

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become more and more ingrained in our society. Social media references to alcohol are also soaring. Between advertisements and celebrity endorsements, young adults and children are getting the idea that heavy alcohol use is okay.

On the surface, there may not be a connection between addiction and social media, but media influence on alcohol consumption is hiding in the ads presented to you and your children. As everyone uses social media more every day, the power of advertising to normalize addiction and other unhealthy habits continue to grow. 

If you are struggling with an addiction to alcohol or other substances, call us at 918-779-0011 today. You shouldn’t walk the path to recovery alone. Social media is one of many ways into addiction and we want to limit that chance as much as possible. Do it for yourself and your family. And if you know someone struggling, help them take the first step to recovery.

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What is the Connection?

Social media has evolved quickly over the years, putting advertising in your face every few seconds. And research shows that the more you are exposed to tobacco and alcohol advertising on social media, the more likely you are to buy these products. Ads are designed with influence in mind and that means getting the hottest stars to say it’s what you need. Media references to alcohol will not be going away anytime soon.

Ads Work

A research team from Michigan State University (MSU) found that alcohol advertising influences people more than other kinds of advertising. The team found that participants watching beer ads are more likely to buy beer than participants watching bottled water ads. “In this study, we wanted to see whether just the mere exposure to alcohol messages on social media makes any difference in terms of people’s expressing intentions to consume alcohol as well as engage in alcohol-related behaviors,” said Saleem Alhabash, assistant professor of advertising and public relations.

The results of this experiment found that advertising for beer was more influential than bottled water. Of 121 participants, half watched beer ads while the other half viewed bottled water ads. In the end, the researchers offered two options, a gift card for beer and another for a coffee shop. 73 percent of the beer ad group said they would take the beer card while only 55 percent of the bottled water group would take the coffee shop card. These findings show that being exposed to alcohol advertising really does make us want to use it.

One of the most dangerous parts of these kinds of ads being common on social media is the lack of rules surrounding them. In order to create a social media account, you have to add your birthday. On the surface, this should be enough to stop age-restricted advertising from showing up on a young person’s social media, but they can lie or create more than one account. There is nothing stopping someone from inputting their birthday wrong or otherwise trying to get around the rules. And there is evidence that alcohol adverting does in fact influence someone’s decisions, so how does social media influence alcohol abuse in general?

Social Media as a Gateway

Research conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) found that individuals who use social media excessively are likely to partake in other addictive behaviors. The study involved 143 individuals, both male and female, ranging from 18 to 35 years of age. They found that the individuals who showed signs of alcohol abuse, narcissism, and reward sensitivity were more influenced by social media use. Many of the participants were also more inclined to use alcohol after viewing a social media ad. Excessive social media use and substance abuse disorder appear to be similar mental processes.

Additionally, Alhabash points out that it isn’t only advertising that can influence young adults. A family member posting a picture is all it takes to model alcohol use to younger people. An individual might post an image of themselves at the bar without thinking about the viewership of the image.

“On social media, the line that distinguishes an ad from regular content is very fine,” Alhabash says. “On TV, most can recognize an ad from a regular show. That’s not always the case on social media.”

He emphasizes that on social media, we are so caught up in showing ourselves that we often don’t think about who is going to take that image too far. Younger family members could want to replicate what you are doing, leading them to use alcohol or other addictive substances. Moving forward with that understanding of social media and alcohol advertising, how does online media influence substance use?

Online Viewership Spreading Addiction

It is fairly well understood that traditional media like TV and film have played a part in increasing alcohol and tobacco use. Social media is just another layer of that influence on viewers, especially adolescent viewers. Alcohol and tobacco companies have not substantially changed how they advertise, but now that young adults can see their friends and family using substances on social media, advertisers are getting a lot of additional reach at no extra cost. By looking at a friend or family’s Facebook or Instagram where alcohol is being used, the viewer may believe it to be an okay activity to take part in.

Additionally, alcohol and tobacco products are easy to obtain, and social media can make it that much easier. Brands plaster their information over their personal pages, making it so anyone who wants to find a way to access substances can. Well-camouflaged advertising and peer influences create a dilemma for those trying to combat substance addiction in younger people.  

Social media is a form of entertainment that will not be going away. This means that the way it enhances the influence of alcohol and other substances will remain a concern and can lead to addiction.

Researching The Link

The US National Library of Medicine has come to the conclusion that there are two ways to approach the association of alcohol and social media from a research standpoint:

  1. Social media can be a source of information about a single user and their behavior. Researchers can take their social media usage and compare it to offline behavior and alcohol use.
  2. Social media can also show us the influence that individuals have on each other. This approach means that researchers can use social media as a supporting source of different theories such as the social learning theory or the media practice theory.

Both these angles of approach have furnished evidence that media references to alcohol can indeed lead to a greater likelihood of alcohol addiction. This doesn’t mean that social media is an evil creation. TV and film have been around for a long time despite having some of the same issues. Concerned parents have worried for decades that they cause violence or the use of addictive substances, yet they still have much to add to our culture. Nonetheless, if you or a loved one are using social media on a regular basis, it might be worth moderating how much time you spend there.

Taking Control of Social Media Use

Moderation is important when using anything potentially addictive. By letting yourself use something to excess – whether that is alcohol, tobacco, drugs, social media, or something else altogether – you can lose control of important aspects of your life. But, by limiting the amount of social media, TV, or film you consume, you also limit your vulnerability to received ideas about substance use.

It’s Everywhere

Young adults and children are growing up in the age of technology, so splitting them from their devices is going to be a challenge. Research conducted by the Journal of Adolescent Health (JAH) found that 92 percent of teens between 13 and 17 years old are online daily. They also found that 24 percent responded they were online constantly while 71 percent responded they use more than one social media platform.

Additionally, social media will do more than lead young minds towards addiction, it also amplifies mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and has even been flagged as contributing to irregular sleep and eating patterns in young adults.

The JAH also found through a PEW Research Center survey that 60 percent of parents have occasionally checked their child’s social media account, while only 35 percent actually have access to their children’s accounts. Social media is infested with celebrities showing off with tobacco products and alcohol, which parents can’t control.

According to data from the JAH, marketers of several kinds of drugs use social media to target new customers.

  • Tobacco
  • Electronic Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that as of 2011, teens who saw celebrities or friends using alcohol or tobacco on social media were more likely to begin using. On the opposite end, teens who barely use social media and don’t see these kinds of advertising or imagery were less likely to use any kind of addictive substance.


As technology advances, social media is the new TV and film. Everyone has access to it, so it becomes a primary location for advertising. Alcohol and tobacco companies are getting creative to lure people into their industries.

Knowing that social media has a major effect on addiction means that moderating social media consumption is important. With social media being as prevalent as it is, everyone from families to big corporations can influence you into alcohol and tobacco use. Media influence on alcohol consumption is not going away, so controlling your social media use is the best defense.

Social media is not only a new form of information sharing and entertainment, but also a new gateway to alcohol addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call the number below and begin the path to recovery today. You don’t need to go through recovery alone and we want to ensure you get connected to the treatment that is truly right for you.

Written by Tristan Kutzer


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