The Power of the Silver Screen: Teens, Movies and Alcohol

Alcohol use was more likely in teens exposed to alcohol use in films

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Teens often imitate mom, dad and other adults. And it looks as though they may also imitate some of what they see in movies.

That means that when they see alcohol consumption, teens may tend to drink more, a new study found. Researchers from the United Kingdom found that 15-year-olds who had the highest levels of exposure to alcohol use in films were more likely to try alcohol and to binge drink than peers who saw fewer movies with alcohol use.

The authors of this study noted that, in comparison to that of other countries, alcohol use in the UK is more likely to be socially sanctioned. They recommended a review of the film rating system and an increase in parental restrictions on adult-rated films.

“Firstly, it has been demonstrated in multiple prospective studies that adolescents who experience parental restrictions on adult-rated films … have less exposure to smoking and drinking in films and lower rates of smoking and drinking themselves," the authors of this study wrote. "Furthermore, these associations are independent of the effect of parenting effectiveness as it is usually measured, raising the possibility that motivating and assisting parents to implement media restrictions between late childhood and early adolescence could have a positive impact on early-onset use of multiple substances.”

This study, led by Andrea Waylen, PhD, of the School of Oral and Dental Sciences at Bristol University, used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the UK. Dr. Waylen and colleagues studied more than 5,000 15-year-olds.

These researchers collected data about factors like social class and income, breastfeeding and parental monitoring. They also looked at medical issues like the presence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression.

Dr. Waylen and team also looked at data on parental alcohol use, teen tobacco use, and peer behavior like drinking and tobacco use.

The UK has a motion picture rating similar to the system in the US, with films rated as appropriate for certain ages or appropriate only for adults. Between 1989 and 2008, only 6 percent of films were classed as adults-only, although 72 percent depicted alcohol use, Dr. Waylen and team noted.

Dr. Waylen and team also noted that in the UK, the social norm is often for alcohol use to occur at young ages. Teens of 16 and 17 can drink wine, beer or cider with a meal if they are with an adult.

Overall, UK teens actually had less total exposure to alcohol use in films than US or German teens, Dr. Waylen and team found. However, even that limited exposure appeared to increase alcohol use.

UK teens who were exposed to the most alcohol use in films were 25 percent more likely to have tried alcohol than teens who were not exposed. They were 74 percent more likely to have engaged in binge drinking.

Finally, these teens were more than twice as likely to drink weekly or to have had at least one alcohol-related problem like alcohol-related arguments, police problems, or interference with school or work. Factors like parental monitoring, family income and gender did not appear to affect teen alcohol use.

This study was published April 13 in the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Waylen and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 10, 2015
Last Updated:
April 14, 2015