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06-20 Music videos expose teens to substance use

Music videos expose teens to substance use

“Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.” – Allen Ginsberg

If Ginsberg is right, America is in for far worse than the opioid epidemic. Marketing and advertising surveys and projections indicate more than 92 percent of U.S. millennials are internet video viewers, and more than 10 million youth nationwide admitted music videos are the main type of video content they ogle.

YouTube reports more than 1 billion viewers worldwide. Outside of the general parental controls, which only block content tagged “explicit,” there is nothing to stop a teen from being exposed to profanity and substance use in music videos or uploaded home videos unregulated by the Federal Trade Commission.

An epidemiology study

Jo Cranwell, Ph.D., is part of England’s University of Nottingham’s Division of Epidemiology & Public Health Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol. She and colleagues studied teenagers’ exposure to alcohol and tobacco content in some popular music videos.

They analyzed three months’ worth of top music videos on YouTube, by decomposing the shorts into 10-second intervals and cataloguing the number of images, lyrics and inferences related to substance use.

“If these levels of exposure were typical, then in one year, music videos would be expected to deliver over 4 billion impressions of alcohol, and nearly 1 billion of tobacco, in Britain alone,” researchers concluded.

The study also noted substance use exposure was highest among 13-15 year old girls and “the number of impressions has been calculated on the basis of one viewing only; however, many of the videos had been watched multiple times, so this number is likely to be much bigger.”

So what does hitting “replay” over and over on videos chocked full of substance use cues do to a young person?

The answer is best summed up by author E.A. Bucchianeri: “Evil influence is like a nicotine patch; you cannot help but absorb what sticks to you.”

Effects of tobacco and alcohol cues on impressionable youth

According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aggressive inferential cigarette marketing tactics still contributes pointedly to first-time smoking by teens –even in this day and age.

Brian Primack, M.D., found that adolescents’ early exposure to smoking in movies linked to a 73 percent upsurge in established smoking, “a greater influence on adolescents’ smoking than even parent, sibling, or peer smoking.”

In a scholarly publication just this spring, Erica Weintraub Austin, Ph.D., draws an assertive conclusion from several recent studies.

“Media messages concerning alcohol and other substances present their use as normative in fictitious portrayals that are exciting, glamorous, and typically free of negative consequences. Storylines show substance use as a good way to fit in with others, relax after a hard day at work, or relieve stress. Ultimately, media play an important socializing role in shaping adolescents’ attitudes toward alcohol and other substances, and young people’s positive affect toward highly desirable media portrayals may circumvent more logical aspects of their decision-making.”

The May issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors features a study wherein alcohol video portrayals were measured against teens’ responses to positive or negative inferences from the movie clips. Teens with higher impulse tendencies reported more willingness to drink after viewing movie clips demonstrating levity and socializing with consumption.

Safeguarding against exposure

Researchers recommend a few strategies to truncate substance-related attitudes and behaviors automated from the entertainment industry:


  • Prefacing viral videos with anti-alcohol and anti-smoking messages
  • Teaching perceptive media literacy: educating young people how to critically process all media messages


The Sovereign Health Group uses brain training and cognitive therapies for teens who have fallen into the trap of substance use and abuse. Combined with alternative therapies, we cultivate lasting wellness for addictions, eating and mental disorders. Call our 24/7 helpline to learn more.

About the author

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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