In the United States, parents, families, communities, and the government have been working for years to check the rise of substance abuse among teenagers and adolescents. Substance abuse includes underage drinking, smoking, or prescription drug consumption. Consuming illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine also falls within the ambit of substance abuse.
The problem, however, is that billions of dollars are being invested by alcohol and tobacco companies to try and lure youngsters into the world of substance abuse via false media portrayals. This poses a huge challenge for society as a whole, because teenagers are young, inexperienced, and impressionable, which makes them easy targets for such false (but glamorous) media portrayals.
Glamorization of Substance Abuse in the Media
Various types of media platforms directly or indirectly promote substance abuse. Such promotion is done by subtly (or overtly) glamorizing the consumption of cigarettes and alcohol.
There are innumerable movies, songs, and TV shows that feature the protagonist or singer consuming alcohol and tobacco products. This type of substance use is portrayed as being cool or attractive. These actors, musicians, and performers have many young fans, and they often feel compelled to copy their idols and consume these addictive substances themselves.
This type of subtle promotion of underage substance abuse has led to problems of addiction among adolescents across the country. Unlike traditional alcohol or tobacco advertising, media depictions of substance use often remains under the radar and avoids criticism because such depictions are not seen as advertising. However, their effect on young minds can be as destructive, if not more.
The Effects of Underage Substance Abuse
While the effects of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl can be quite destructive, the major threat to the wellbeing of teenagers and adolescents in American society is posed by legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. This is because such products are easier (and cheaper) to avail for teenagers than hard, illegal drugs. Tobacco and alcohol can also serve as ‘gateway drugs’, which pave the way for future consumption of illegal substances, like the ones mentioned above.
According to studies, an adolescent or teenager who drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes is more than 65 times as likely to try marijuana in the future than someone who neither drinks nor smokes. And the risk of addiction and health problems is far greater in the case of underage kids experimenting with drugs, than it is for adults using the same substances. Every year, more than five thousand individuals below the age of 21 die as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.
The Need for Alcohol Media Literacy
To understand why alcohol media literacy is so important, we must first comprehend what exactly it is and how it works. In short, media literacy is the ability and skill required to impartially analyze and evaluate the messages and ideas propagated by various media outlets. Consequently, alcohol media literacy is the process of teaching children and adolescents how they can rationally and impartially evaluate the messages about alcohol and drug consumption propagated by the media.
Through quality alcohol media literacy programs (offered at schools, colleges, and community centers) adolescents and teenagers can learn how advertising and media outlets shape our perceptions and our way of thinking. The ability to rationally judge and evaluate the messages propagated through various media outlets will enable teenagers to avoid being taken in by the deceptively glamorous depictions of drug and alcohol use.
They will, hence, be able to make conscious and more well-informed decisions about the consumption of addictive and age-restricted substances. In short, through alcohol media literacy programs, young people can gain the skills needed to consciously think about and question the messages and ideas that they are exposed to via films, TV, and music.
Critically Evaluating Depictions of Substance Use in the Media
Tobacco and alcohol advertisers often use images and words to subtly imply various ideas and messages, even without saying them out loud. Understanding these subtle manipulation techniques will help teenagers challenge insidious ideas that promote substance abuse.
An example of this is the implied promise that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol will make one more attractive, popular, and desirable. This message is only reinforced when adolescents see their idols – including actors, rockstars, and models – indulging in substance abuse in movies, concerts, TV shows, etc. Alcohol media literacy is essential for combating such false notions and helping youngsters understand the superficiality of these depictions.
Schools, families, and communities must come together to spread the message, in order to minimize the risk of teenage substance abuse around the country. And one of the most effective ways of maximizing alcohol media literacy is by contacting a reputed company or institution that has experience developing and implementing media literacy programs targeted towards teens and adolescents. This will enable children and young adults to develop much-needed critical thinking skills with regards to media consumption, an ability that will serve them for the rest of their lives.