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Popular YouTube Videos Drown Viewers with Positive Portrayals of Drunkenness

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 20, 2015 – The 70 most popular videos depicting drunkenness on YouTube account for more than 330 million views, with little portrayal of the negative outcomes of excessive alcohol consumption, according to an analysis led by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health (CRMTH).

The popularity of such videos on YouTube could be an opportunity for public health interventions aimed at educating teenagers and young adults of the negative consequences of intoxication, the researchers suggest in an article published in today’s issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

“There has been little research examining Internet-based, alcohol-related messaging,” said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of CRMTH and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “While we know that some viewers may be savvy enough to skeptically view music videos or advertisements portraying intoxication as fun, those same viewers may be less cynical when viewing user-generated YouTube videos portraying humorous and socially rewarding escapades of a group of intoxicated peers.”

Dr. Primack’s team mined YouTube for five terms synonymous with alcohol intoxication – drunk, buzzed, hammered, tipsy and trashed – winnowing their findings down to the most relevant.

There were a total of 333,246,875 views for all 70 videos combined. 

  • Humor was juxtaposed with alcohol use in 79 percent of the videos.
  • Motor vehicle use was present in 24 percent.
  • Although 86 percent of the videos showed active intoxication, only 7 percent contained references to alcohol dependence.
  • An average of 23.2 “likes” were registered for every “dislike.”
  • While 89 percent of the videos involved males, only 49 percent involved females.
  • A specific brand of alcohol was referenced in 44 percent of the videos.

“This is the first comprehensive attempt to analyze YouTube data on intoxication, and these statistics should be valuable in guiding interventions,” said Dr. Primack, also a practicing physician. “For example, we know that men tend to report more frequent binge drinking than women and that alcohol use is perceived as more socially acceptable for men. Because they are portrayed more frequently in YouTube videos, it may be useful to target men with future interventions debunking alcohol-related myths propagated on social media.”

Dr. Primack found it concerning that nearly half the videos contained specific brand references. While this could indicate industry influence, the researchers did not note any clear indication of intentional advertising. Past research has linked exposure to brand references in popular media to encouraging alcohol consumption.

Additional authors on this research are Jason B. Colditz, M.Ed., and Kevin C. Pang, both of Pitt; and Kristina M. Jackson, Ph.D., of Brown University.

This research was funded by ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research.

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