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On YouTube, drinking often depicted as safe

WASHINGTON — Getting drunk is disinhibiting, and the negative consequences, especially if you are young and you do it often enough, can include car accidents, unsafe sex, fights, victimization, alcohol dependence, and other nasty, unwanted effects.

That’s not the world of intoxication as depicted on YouTube, however, where attractive people doing funny things predominate and ‘‘negative clinical outcomes’’ are seldom on display.

In a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, University of Pittsburgh researchers watched, and coded, the 70 most popular YouTube videos depicting intoxication — a group that received, collectively, 333.2 million views.

The researchers, from the university’s Schools of the Health Sciences, say theirs is the first ‘‘comprehensive’’ attempt to analyze the way intoxication is depicted on YouTube.


What they found should disturb, or at least make one aware, that the mostly young viewers of YouTube are seeing a very skewed portrayal of heavy drinking.

‘‘A lot of the myths that are propagated on social media . . . are very similar to the ones that we see . . . propagated through a lot of movies and ads and TV shows — namely that intoxication is extremely humorous, that it is associated with very positive emotional and sexual consequences,’’ said Brian Primack, the lead researcher and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in the Health Sciences school.

‘‘We see somebody falling down, we see somebody breaking something, but then through quick cuts or through editing, we turn that into something funny, as opposed to something that might have harmful consequences,’’ he added.

In the real world, Primack, who is also a physician, said he sees alcohol causing cirrhosis of the liver, family breakups, and serious injuries.

To find the videos, Primack’s team chose five commonly used YouTube search terms for ‘‘intoxicated’’: drunk, buzzed, hammered, tipsy, and trashed. They watched the top 70 and analyzed them for a wide variety of elements, including the characteristics associated with alcohol, consequences, and users’ sentiments.


They found that 89 percent of the videos include males while only 49 percent showed females.

Eighty-one percent portrayed alcohol or intoxication in the audio and 69 percent included it in the video. Forty-four percent had a reference to a brand name.

Eighty-six percent showed ‘‘active intoxication,’’ but only 7 percent referred to alcohol dependence.

Humor was associated with alcohol use in 79 percent of the videos.

Not surprisingly, this collection of videos averaged 23.2 ‘‘likes’’ for every ‘‘dislike.’’