Study finds music's alcohol references sway drinking habits

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A new study in Alcohol, Clinical and Experimental Research discusses the prevalence and impact of alcohol references in music using studies acquired from four major databases.

Study: The prevalence of alcohol references in music and their effect on people Study: The prevalence of alcohol references in music and their effect on people's drinking behavior: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Image Credit: Tint Media / Shutterstock.com

How common are alcohol references in music?

Music is everywhere today, with the average number of hours spent listening to music estimated to be about 1,000 hours yearly, according to data from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Music can shape the attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions of individuals and communities.”

Importantly, many people report improved learning and emotional regulation when listening to music. Music may also help manage depressive and neurological symptoms in conditions like Parkinson's disease and dementia.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of music, as they are still in the formative stage of life, both with respect to understanding and relating to the world around them and expressing themselves. Adolescents also use music to cope with multiple challenges, including mood shifts and emotional responses.

The current study examined the presentation of alcohol use in music, as drinking is a significant public health concern that can be attributed to accidents, chronic disease, and risk-taking behavior. Despite this, drinking is depicted in many popular media, including music.

Earlier research found that references to alcohol were common in both the words and visual content of music videos. Many of these references were positive and avoided and did not discuss any drinking-related harms.

Alcohol references in music, such as rap, are on the rise, which motivated the present study that seeks to understand how common they are and how they affect behavior, especially among young people. It is known that watching movies that show drinking is linked to drinking behavior.

What did the study show?

The current study aimed to quantify the pooled exposure to alcohol-related content in multiple forms of digital music media and evaluate how it is associated with alcohol consumption. To this end, the analysis included 26 articles from 1997 to 2022, 23 of which were suitable to assess pooled exposure to alcohol references in a cumulative total of 12,000 songs.

Eight studies examined music videos, five of which explored both lyrics and visual content. Overall, about 25% of music lyrics or videos referred to alcohol; however, when lyrics alone were considered, the prevalence became 22% as compared to 25% for only the visual aspect of music videos.

Thus, there were significant differences in the prevalence of alcohol references in the groups that included lyrics plus video, lyrics alone, or video content alone. The prevalence differed according to the genre, number of music types, study period, and source from which music samples were obtained.

Rap was more likely than Billboard music to contain alcohol references, unlike similarities observed between Billboard, television, and YouTube music. Comparatively, rock music had a lower prevalence of alcohol references.

If there were more than 500 songs in the sample, alcohol references were more prevalent than in a small sample. Songs released from 2010 onwards were also more likely to include references to alcohol.

Only three studies examined how listening to music that referred to alcohol-related to actual drinking behavior, each of which reported a positive correlation. However, these studies used variable definitions of exposure and different study populations, in addition to different study designs, thus preventing the researchers from conducting a meta-analysis.

Individuals who liked and owned songs with references to drinking and could correctly identify one or more brands mentioned in the songs were two to three times more likely to drink, with the likelihood of binge drinking almost doubled and problem drinking increased by 30-50%. Another study found that drink turnover in a bar was significantly higher at €191 than €182 when music containing references to alcohol was played compared to other songs by the same artists.

The consistent conclusions from these studies may imply that music with alcohol references might have a significant influence on drinking behaviors.”

What are the implications?

Alcohol references in modern music are pervasive and often glorify drinking as joyful, glamorous, and luxurious. Watching music videos is likely to maximize exposure to alcohol-related content; however, more extensive studies are needed to confirm this finding.

The current study found that almost one in four songs mentioned alcohol, which increases the likelihood of drinking by normalizing alcohol consumption. Future studies are needed to explore how references to alcohol in music affect various aspects of drinking behavior using standardized definitions and larger samples to support future public health actions.

Public health preventive measures are needed to reduce alcohol exposure from music.”

Journal reference:
  • Alen, G. D., Anderson-Luxford, D., Kuntsche, E., et al. (2024). The prevalence of alcohol references in music and their effect on people's drinking behavior: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Alcohol, Clinical and Experimental Research. doi:10.1111/acer.15262.
Dr. Liji Thomas

Written by

Dr. Liji Thomas

Dr. Liji Thomas is an OB-GYN, who graduated from the Government Medical College, University of Calicut, Kerala, in 2001. Liji practiced as a full-time consultant in obstetrics/gynecology in a private hospital for a few years following her graduation. She has counseled hundreds of patients facing issues from pregnancy-related problems and infertility, and has been in charge of over 2,000 deliveries, striving always to achieve a normal delivery rather than operative.

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