Content Analysis of Tobacco, Alcohol, and Other Drugs in Popular Music

According to a large national study, adolescents are exposed to an average of 2.4 hours of music each day. There is increasing evidence that exposure to media messages increases substance use in youth. Although there have been frequent studies on the link between health behavior and young adults' exposure to television or movies, there have been few studies that consider the association between music and substance use. In this study, the researchers performed a comprehensive content analysis of contemporary popular music. They used data from Billboard magazine to identify the most popular songs of 2005.

Key Findings:

  • Of the 279 songs studied, 93 (33.3%) contained explicit references to substance use, with alcohol being most frequently mentioned followed by marijuana.
  • The most common elements associated with substance use in the lyrics were partying, sex, violence, dealing and humor.
  • Only four (rock) songs portrayed a specific anti-use message, and none portrayed refusal to use.

These results suggest that adolescents between the ages of 15 to 18 years are exposed to an average of 84 explicit references to substance use every day through listening to music, and the greatest exposure occurs among those youth who prefer rap music.