STUDY: Alcohol advertisements, Super Bowl commercials influence teens to drink Submitted: 01/30/2015
RHINELANDER - Super Bowl Sunday is the holy grail of football.

This time last year, more than 113 million people were preparing to watch the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos battle for the Super Bowl title.

But it's what happens when the game stops that has experts talking.

Game time is primetime for the biggest advertisements of the year, many of which market alcohol with ads targeting teens.

"It disturbs me to hear that because I can see the impact on young adults," said Yvette Hittle, a behavior expert with Ministry Behavioral Health in Rhinelander. "And the advertisers are specifically marketing for that age."

Of the millions of people watching the big game, 23 percent will be young adults, ages 18 to 20, who aren't legally permitted to drink.

Hittle has experience with the teens impacted by advertisements seen on TV and social media.

In fact, her patients range from from twelve years old to seventy. Their struggles range widely too.

"[I deal with] everything from alcohol abuse to heroin dependence, to methamphetamine, to folks who are abusing bath salts," Hittle said.

She believes those chronic addictions can start with the heavy influence from messages in the media.

"Those messages are sinking into their brain and influencing the decisions they make."

A study published by Medical News Today earlier this year suggests the number of television ads seen by kids under the legal drinking age influences their decisions to drink early.

That premature behavior can lead to a lifetime of dependence of alcohol.

For the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Americans spend more than $1 billion on beer and other alcohol nationwide.

"There's always an increase in sales for the Super Bowl," said Dennis Annis, owner of House of Spirits in Rhinelander. "Lots of people have lots of parties. Of course, it'd be much better if we had our Packers in it, but it is what it is."

Annis says he's very careful about never selling alcohol to people under the legal age.

"If they don't have the proper identification, they can't buy it."

But he doesn't believe TV ads encourage risky teen behavior.

"Personally, I don't think it does. It all depends on the individual," Annis said.

Experts, however, think the popularity of drinking in Wisconsin can dangerously expose teens to early drinking habits and patterns.

Hittle thinks adolescents are overwhelmed with messages that impact their self-esteem, psyche, and comfort level around their peers at a crucial time in their lives.

"[The advertisements tell them], if you drink this specific brand of alcohol, you will be attractive to beautiful women, you will be popular, that's it exciting and fun," said Hittle.

Underage drinkers consume as much as 20 percent of all the alcohol in the United States. In 2011, 14 companies spent nearly three-and-a-half billion dollars on marketing and advertising alcohol.

Behavioral experts believe there are preventative measures that can protect teens from early alcohol dependence.

Globally, there could be restrictions placed on how alcohol companies are permitted to advertise.

But Hittle believes education starts at home.

"I encourage parents to carry on a dialogue with their children about advertisements, so the children can look critically at how these advertisements may be influencing them."

An open dialogue about early alcohol abuse can make a difference.

During this years' Super Bowl, Budweiser will debut two commercials, while Bud Light will premiere one.

The cost for 30 seconds of air time during this year's game was $4.5 million dollars; that's about $500,000 more expensive than last year.

Story By: Kalia Baker

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