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Media Images of Alcohol Can Drive You to Drink

Scenes in films, TV commercials have measurable impact, study finds

WEDNESDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- Young men who watched the movie American Pie with accompanying commercials for alcohol were more apt to grab a beer or glass of wine from the refrigerator, compared to those who watched a movie without the drinking prompts.

This study shows for the first time the effect of on-screen depictions of alcohol and their influence on consumers' behavior, said the researchers, who are from Canada and the Netherlands.

"It's one of those things the majority of people have assumed to be the case, but it's nice to have the empirical evidence," said Jeffrey T. Parsons, chair of psychology at Hunter College in New York City. Parsons was not involved with the study, which was published online March 4 in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

But, Parsons added, the study had limitations.

"It was done just with young men, and there are a lot of differences in the role of gender and alcohol," he said. "It's also a Dutch study that used American movies. Part of me wonders if it's just bad American movies that make people drink."

The study is unlikely to be the last word on the subject, Parsons added.

The new research isn't the only new troubling data coming out on alcohol and alcohol abuse.

On Tuesday, a report in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine said that an estimated 11 percent to 20 percent of U.S. teens have T-shirts, headwear, jewelry, key chains and other paraphernalia emblazoned with brands of alcoholic beverages. These children seem to be more prone to end up being binge drinkers, the Dartmouth researchers noted.

For the new study, 40 pairs of unsuspecting men aged 18 to 29 were invited into a lab that doubled as a "home cinema," complete with fridge (stocked with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks), a leather couch, large-screen TV, nibbles and an ashtray.

The men, who were given the option of a free taxi home if they drank three or more bottles of beer or wine, were randomly assigned to watch American Pie with and without alcohol ads, or characters consuming alcohol, or 40 Days and 40 Nights, again with and without the alcohol content.

Those who watched the segments that included alcohol drank an average of three 200-milligram bottles of alcohol. Those watching the "neutral" segments drank half that amount.

The findings, which need to be confirmed in other groups of people and in larger studies, may argue for a sort of "rating" system regarding alcohol in movies, the authors stated.

Dr. Kathryn J. Kotrla, chairwoman of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, said the new study was "reminiscent of the imaging studies, for example, looking at cocaine addiction."

"It would be fascinating to follow the study up with neuroimaging studies with alcoholics ... to see if the same reward pathways are triggered in the brain," she said. "Why that's so important is that it bypasses the debate, is alcoholism a failure of will or a disease? It puts [the debate] smack dab in the neuroscience arena, which, in fact, is where it needs to be."

More information

To learn more about alcohol abuse, visit the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

SOURCES: Jeffrey T. Parsons, Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology, Hunter College, New York City; Kathryn J. Kotrla, M.D., chairwoman and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, and associate dean, Health Science Center, Round Rock; March 4, 2009, Alcohol and Alcoholism, online

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