Videos of people falling over drunk are popular on YouTube, but such glimpses of inebriation do not show the negative consequences of drinking too much alcohol, a new study finds.
In the study, the researchers watched 70 popular videos of drunkenness on YouTube, which had more than 300 million views combined. To find the videos, the researchers searched YouTube for the words "drunk," "buzzed," "hammered," "tipsy" and "trashed."
They then analyzed the videos for certain characteristics, for example, whether the video featured a particular brand of alcohol, whether humor or games were involved, or if the video showed negative consequences of drinking such as an injury or a hangover.
About 80 percent of videos juxtaposed humor with alcohol use, while only about 17 percent showed some type of negative physical consequence of alcohol use. In addition, only 7 percent referred to alcohol dependence (such as withdrawal symptoms), but alcohol dependence is common among frequent heavy drinkers, the researchers said.
"This disparity between representation and reality may affect viewers' perceptions regarding alcohol use," the researchers wrote in the March issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. "For example, youth heavily exposed to these videos may develop a skewed sense of the true nature and consequence of heavy alcohol use," they said. [7 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health]
The researchers noted that nearly half of the videos (44 percent) referred to a specific brand of alcohol. "This is important because brand-name references are known to be particularly potent in terms of encouraging drinking," Dr. Brian Primack, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a statement. "Even if these references were not placed by the industry, they can still function as advertising."
Given the popularity of YouTube, it may be valuable for public health advocates to post material that educates people about the negative consequences of excessive drinking. By giving viewers the real picture of the consequences of drinking, health experts "could help 'even out' the types of portrayals," that currently exist on YouTube," Primack said.
A limitation of the new study is that the researchers used a keyword search to gather videos for their analysis, which meant that the videos needed to include a text reference to the keyword in either the title or the description, the researchers said.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.