STUDY: Alcohol advertisements, Super Bowl commercials influence underage 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 as the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos battled for title of Super bowl champions.

But it's what happens when the game isn't on that has experts talking.

Game time is prime-time for the biggest advertisements of the year, many of those marketing alcoholic products with advertisements targeting underage teens.

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

From the millions of people watching the big game, 23 percent will be young adults ages 18-20, 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," continued Hittle.

She believes those chronic addictions can start with the heavy influence from message 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 teens under the age of 21, influences their decision to drink early.

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

"It disturbs me to hear about that because I can see the impact on young adults. The advertisers are specifically marketing for that age," continued Hittle.

For the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, more than one billion dollars is spent on beer and other alcohol nationwide.

"There's always an increase in sales for the super bowl, 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," said Dennis Annis, owner of House of Spirits in Rhinelander.

Annis says he's most careful about never selling alcohol to underage teens.

But experts believe the popularity of drinking in Wisconsin can dangerously expose teens to early drinking habits and patterns.

"We have a huge culture of drinking, no big surprise. In fact, when all the statistics come out, Wisconsin always ranks the highest for heavy drinking, drinking fatalities and binge drinking."

Adolescents are overwhelmed with messages that impact their self-esteem and 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.

"Adolescents are already unconsciously picking up these[messages]. Studies show that teens can link advertisements, that are directed at adolescents, and the brands of alcohol."

Annis won't stand for teens illegally attempting to buy alcohol.

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

He also believes that TV ads don't encourage risky teen behavior.

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

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 thirty seconds of air time was $4.5 million dollars; that's about $500,000 more expensive than last year.

Story By: Kalia Baker

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