Teen Binge Drinking Linked to Pop Music Alcohol References, But Is This Really Surprising?

The music industry has a lot to answer for, it seems. Not only is it rife with gender inequality, it might also be turning adolescents into alcoholics. At least, that's what a new study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and Norris Cotton Cancer Center would suggest — it found that teen binge drinking is linked with liking, owning and accurately identifying songs that reference booze by brand name.

According to research, your average teenager will be exposed to roughly 2.5 hours of pop music per day, and roughly a quarter of that contains references to either drinking or specific alcohol brands (think "Armand de brignac, gangster wife"). That means they hear roughly 14 drinking references per music-hour, and 8 brand name references specifically per day.

"Every year, the average adolescent is exposed to about 3,000 references to alcohol brands while listening to music," said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D. "It is important that we understand the impact of these references in an age group that can be negatively affected by alcohol consumption."

The study surveyed over 2,500 young Americans between the ages of 15 and 23; and found that 59 percent of them had consumed a complete alcoholic drink (meaning 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor at one time.) Eighteen percent reported binge drinking at least once a month.

The link with music was overwhelming: those who could accurately recall the alcohol brands in songs were twice as likely to have had a complete alcoholic drink, and more likely to have binged on booze, than those who couldn't remember a brand. And that applied even after adjusting for factors like socioeconomic status, and alcohol use by friends or family.

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"Brand references may serve as advertising," says Dr. Sargent, senior author of the study, "even if they are not paid for by the industry. This is why it is useful to examine the influence of brand mentions."

While this may be true, it's important to point out that the study was only able to prove correlation, not causation — it might be that the kids were better able to remember the brand names precisely because they were bigger drinkers, and not the other way around. Still, if teens really are so influenced by the booze brands that are mentioned in pop songs, then that's all the more reason to deal with all the other problematic representations in the industry.