This is the first year of the Youth Ambassador Network. We have been honored to work with quite a few talented and passionate young people.

25 May 2015 | News

Their goal being the same as ours; equipping young people with the tools to become their own advocates against substance abuse.

In the spirit of this mission, Youth Ambassador Madelyn Stewart, of Idaho, was asked to write a few articles exploring substance abuse amongst youth in her community and attempt to expose some of the key factors that contribute to this behavior. Madelyn’s first article highlighted the struggles and recovery of one her close friends. This article seeks to explore more closely the role of drug use advertisement aimed at teens.

We are grateful for Madelyn’s dedication and hard work and hope that you will find her insights valuable and enlightening. If you know of young person that would be perfect for our Youth Ambassador Network please have them send an email to [email protected].

The True “Price” of Advertising Targeted at Teens

By Youth Ambassador Madelyn Stewart

Advertising can be found in all major forms of media, including radio, television, and magazines. It is a type of persuasion that we’ve become accustomed to seeing constantly. It’s really important to understand the psychology behind the advertisements we see so often, because they have a direct influence on our habits as teen consumers. In some way, everyone sees or hears advertisements each day.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to advertisements and marketing campaigns. And the industry is very well aware of our vulnerability. Teenagers in particular have strong emotions, are prone to impulsive decisions and risky behaviors, and are susceptible to the psychological factors surrounding image and self-worth. Adolescents also make up the age group that is most vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. According to the National Journal of Substance Abuse, “Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.” Between the ages of 12 and 21, the teenage brain goes through a critical development and maturation process, especially in the frontal lobes. Alcohol abuse in teens can hinder the frontal cortexes’ response to stimuli, which slows reaction time and hinders attention, memory, and other automatic cognitive processing.

Young people are more likely to partake in these dangerous activities when they have been exposed to alcohol advertisements because of their vulnerability to common advertising tactics used by the alcohol industry. “By the time a student turns 18 in America, they will have be exposed to half a million alcohol advertisements,” says Dr. Peter DeBenedittis, a media literacy speaker and consultant for drug control policy. As tobacco companies did for many years, alcohol producers continue to argue that their advertisements have no influence on alcohol consumption among youth. There are no federal regulations on the alcohol industry’s advertising practices, but the major alcohol trade groups created voluntary advertising codes that the industry adheres to, including the requirement at least 70% of the print, radio, and television advertisement audience must be adults of legal drinking age.

Unfortunately, many youth are still exposed to these alcohol advertisements on a regular basis, and the impact is much bigger and severe than most people realize. Because advertisements change how youth view alcohol, exposure to advertisements increase the chances that youth will drink or abuse alcohol. A 2006 study published by Leslie Snyder and her associates at JAMA Pediatrics found that the amount of drinks an adolescent consumed increased by 1% for each advertisement seen in the study.

Alcohol companies have many marketing and advertising tactics to appeal to their adolescent audiences. Dr. DeBenedittis’ studies have found that the industry achieves this through a process called pairing. Alcohol advertisements are often laden with humor, and when the brain processes its reaction to the comedy, it also processes the association to alcohol. When these two are related in such close contact, the brain pairs “beer” with “funny,” and fosters the idea that beer will create an exciting, comedic environment. There are many factors in a teenager’s life that can negatively influence their perceptions of the reality of alcohol abuse.

The advertisements produced and marketing strategies used by alcohol companies are specifically targeted towards teenagers in many cases, and have been proven to increase the chances of alcohol abuse among those under the legal drinking age. It is very important to educate youth on media literacy, as Dr. DeBenedittis does, so that they are aware of the impact that advertising can have on them. Because advertising is so prevalent in our everyday lives, regulations on its negative influence would limit the exposure to young people and, consequently, its negative influence on their decision making.

For more information on media literacy, visit Dr. DeBenedittis’ site:


Grant, B.F., & Dawson, D. A. (1997). Age at Onset of Alcohol Use and its Association with

DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal

Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. National Journal of Substance Abuse, vol. 9, p. 103-110.

‘Smashed’ Documentary Excerpt. Dr. Peter DeBenedittis. Presentation Samples. Peter D.: Media

Literacy for Prevention, Critical Thinking, Self-Esteem.

Snyder, Leslie B., PhD, Frances Fleming Milici, PhD, Michael Slater, PhD, Helen Sun, MA, and

Yuliya Strizhakova, PhD. “Effects of Alcohol Advertising Exposure on Drinking Among

Youth.” JAMA Pediatrics No. 1 160 (2006): n. pag. The JAMA Network. Web. 18 Feb.


“Youth Drinking: Risk Factors and Consequences.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and

Alcoholism. National Institutes of Health, July 1997. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.