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A study of more than 70 popular YouTube videos reveals that intoxication is mostly depicted as fun and humorous, with few references to the negative consequences of drinking.
Dr. Brian Primack is the lead researcher of the study "Portrayal of Alcohol Intoxication on YouTube," published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
He tells Here & Now's Robin Young that analyzing these videos is valuable for debunking myths about drinking and designing interventions.
Another video discussed in this segment is "What Girls Do When They're Drunk." See it here, but note that it contains strong language and mature content.
Interview Highlights: Dr. Brian Primack
How was the research conducted?
"When you do this type of research, you have to come up with a systematic approach from the beginning so that you’re not cherry picking certain videos, so we selected specific search terms and looked at the top 20 hits for each term when searching YouTube by both popularity and by relevance.
"The terms were drunk, buzzed, hammered, tipsy and trashed, and we got actually got those from another study which stated that those are the ones people tend to use colloquially."
"Some videos were extremely well-produced music videos and others were on the complete other end of the spectrum - just someone shooting impromptu video with their phone in the backseat of a car. There are people taping themselves playing video games while intoxicated, so a lot of variety."
Overall, how was alcohol portrayed?
"The primary finding was that humor was very prominent, it was alongside intoxication 79 percent of the time. But for comparison, something related to dependence or addiction was only mentioned 7 percent of the time, so the overall message is that alcohol intoxication being out of control, blacking out, is funny and not really associated with consequences. And this is of course very ironic to me as a physician because for my patients with alcohol abuse, it is exactly the opposite. They experience the addiction and the very negative physical and mental consequences every day, but none of the humor."
What does it mean to you that young people are watching these videos?
"It means that we are going to probably see more problems in the future and that we probably at this point can’t stick with - as you're implying - traditional alcohol education. If all we do is go into a classroom once a year and tell people alcohol can have bad effects, then obviously if we’re seeing a third of billion views on this side, the thing that we do in the classroom is going to pale in comparison to the messaging that young people get every day on the other side."
"If you’re posting a drunken video of you and your friends, you’re going to show the part that is funny, but you’re not going to be showing the parts that are really shameful, one of your friends hitting another under the influence, someone actually throwing up and choking on their vomit in a repulsive way. The result is that impressionable young people get the sense that what they see there really does reflect reality. That affects their normative beliefs about alcohol, their attitudes towards alcohol and then ultimately their behaviors."
What can be done about it?
"Intervention is definitely going to be a challenge. It is going to be complex, but I think it can be done. I think that one implication related to our discussion about not just sticking to traditional alcohol education, and the fact that young people are being exposed to many, many messages on the other side every day, is that we need to give young people the critical skills to analyze and evaluate whatever alcohol-related messages they’re exposed to, whether they are advertisements in movies or on social media like YouTube.
- Brian Primack, M.D., director of University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health.
This segment aired on March 13, 2015.