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The Role of Advertising in Kids’ Drinking, and the Link Between Genes and Alcoholism

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The Role of Advertising in Kids’ Drinking, and the Link Between Genes and Alcoholism

Research shows both are factors in alcohol abuse starting early

This is a generalization, but it’s a pretty sure bet that kids aren’t going to wise up to the dangers of drinking any time soon. As one example, Rand Europe studied how social media is used to market liquor to young people and published their research findings last year in the Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism. It was not pretty.

The research organization looked at the five brands they believed had the highest advertising impact to see how the advertising compared to what the brands were doing on social media. (The brands were Foster’s beer, Tia Maria liqueur, Stella Artois beer, Carling beer and Magners cider.)

Facebook supposedly is for those 18 and older, but it’s common knowledge that kids can use a false age when they sign up, so young users could easily access these sites. It’s a big problem, teen with beerthe researchers said in the Chicago Tribune article explaining the study. The law in the U.K. is that no medium should be used to advertise alcoholic drinks if more than 25 percent of its audience is under 18 years of age, but the researchers found that 39 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls aged 6 to 14 accessed Facebook during December 2010 to May 2011. It’s not a direct correlation, but it’s disturbing nonetheless. And remember that Twitter and YouTube are just as lax.

A Rand analyst commented that “Parents should be aware that major alcohol brands are using the internet to market their products, in particular on social media websites which are heavily used by children and adolescents.” A U.S. professor of strategic communication also weighed in, concerned about how easy it is for kids to access these sites. One of the problems is that those too young to drink “can still form positive associations with certain brands, which affects the choices they make when they’re older.”

However, an executive with the Distilled Spirits Council notes that drinking among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders has declined in recent years, and he’s got a point. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much when we know how drinking at a young age can have cognitive repercussions since young brains are still developing, and that the earlier people start drinking, the more of a chance there is that they’ll become addicted. I wonder what the figures are for alcohol poisoning among different age groups as well. And if you talk to a parent whose youngster has gotten into trouble with alcohol, even one child drinking is one too many. In April, Joan wrote about a mother who thinks her daughter’s addiction started with one sip of a martini!

In the U.S., a more recent study, reported in USA Today, found that four alcohol brands—Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Hennessy cognac, Grey Goose vodka and Patron tequila—dominated the mentions of alcohol in songs, and of course they glamorized underage drinking and partying. It’s important to discuss with students what this means, one of the study’s authors said.  They need to start thinking what influence these mentions have on their decisions, since song lyrics can “boost a product in a consumer’s mind,” the writer said.

If anyone needs a reminder that alcoholism runs in families, recall that as far back as 2003, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that “familial transmission of alcoholism risk is at least in part genetic and not just the result of family environment.” The group stated this after exploring studies involving twins and finding that “identical twins, who share the same genes, are about twice as likely as fraternal twins, who share on average 50 percent of their genes, to resemble each other in terms of the presence of alcoholism.”

There’s a short entry in the NYT Magazine reporting that children who survive persistent bullying often develop a blunted cortisol response to stress which may lead to alcoholism later in life. What does this have to do with genetics? Only that the changes that result may be passed on to future generations, says one expert.9

Here’s a video I found moving about the effects of having an alcoholic father, by a college student who didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps. I wish I’d written something that comes close.

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