There’s no trick and there’s no treat when it comes to underage drinking on Halloween. The spookiest holiday of the year is also considered one of the biggest drinking holidays, so it’s no surprise that the alcohol industry wants to cash in on getting into the spirit. Unfortunately, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth researchers have found that that there is a link between minors who recognize advertisements for beer and spirits and the likelihood of them drinking.
A study published in the Journal of Health Communication found that underage youth are drawn to music, animal and people characters, story and humor in alcohol advertising. Youth in the study were more likely to say they wanted to purchase the brand and products advertised when they liked the ad.
Another study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that out of 2,541 youths ages 15-20 years old, 59 percent had previously drank alcohol. Familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was significantly higher for those who drank than those who had not, and was also linked with greater alcohol use and binge drinking.
In addition to these frightening findings, Halloween is a particularly deadly night due to the high number of drinking drivers on the roads. In 2010, nearly one in four drivers aged 15-20 involved in fatal crashes were drinking (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Alcohol abuse has also been linked to as many as two-thirds of sexual assaults and date rapes of teens and college students. Clearly, the developing teen brain is more sensitive to the effects of alcohol compared to adults. This puts teens at greater risk for causing or experiencing serious harm.
So parents, what can you do to prevent underage and dangerous drinking on Halloween, or any other time of the year? Here are three simple steps:
• Talk. Find out what your teens’ Halloween plans are and set expectations for what is an appropriate celebration. Let them know that if they find themselves at a party where alcohol is being served, they can call you for a safe ride home.
• Be involved. Support your kids in school and other activities. Get to know their friends and the parents of those friends, and trust your gut. If there is a problem, you’ll likely pick up on it.
• Be a good role model. Kids always pay more attention to what we do than to what we say. If you want your children and teens to use good judgement about alcohol now, and as they get older, show it yourself.
Erica Stineman is the Communications Consultant at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. She is also a member of the Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (RUaD) Communications Impact Team.