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Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music

NCJ Number
Donald F. Roberts Ph.D; Lisa Henriksen Ph.D; Peter G. Christianson Ph.D
Date Published
April 1999
82 pages
This study examines the frequency and nature of tobacco use, alcohol use, and illicit drug use as depicted in the 200 most popular movie rentals and 1,000 of the most popular songs from 1996 and 1997 to determine the accuracy of public perceptions about the extensive drug use in media popular among youth.
Drugs included in the study were illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Researchers examined what was used, by whom, how often, under what circumstances, and with what consequences. The study considered whether movies and songs involved drug use as an important theme, contained pro-use or anti-use behavior or statements, conveyed limit-setting messages, or associated substance use with positive or negative contexts. The research also examined the extent to which substance use portrayals varied among different types of movies and movies with different ratings. Ninety-eight percent of movies depicted illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or over-the-counter or prescription medicines. Substance use was almost never a central theme. The major finding from the song analysis was the dramatic difference among music categories. Illicit drugs were mentioned in 63 percent of rap songs, compared to about 10 percent of the songs in the other categories. Neither movies nor music provided much information about motives for drug use. However, 48 percent of the movies that portrayed drug use showed one or more consequences of drug use. In contrast, only 19 percent of the songs that referred to illicit drugs mentioned any consequence. Figures and appended lists of movies and songs and information about media content analyses and the importance of movies and music in the lives of youth.