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Community

U.S. culture is replete with messages touting the attractions of alcohol use, and—notwithstanding the legal norm—suggesting that drinking is acceptable for people under 21. Recent content analyses indicate that alcohol use was depicted, typically in a positive light, in more than 70 percent of a sample of episodes in prime-time television programming in 1999 (Christensen et al., 2000), and in more than 90 percent of the two hundred most popular movie rentals for 1996-1997 (Roberts et al., 1999b). Roberts et al. (1999b) also found that 17 percent of the 1,000 of the most popular songs in 1996-1997 across five genres of music popular with youth contained alcohol references, including almost one-half of the rap music recordings. The alcohol industry spent $1.6 billion on advertising in 2001, and probably twice that much in other promotional activity. Young people are exposed to a steady stream of images and lyrics presenting alcohol use in an attractive light.

Within any country, the specific community environment may contribute to drinking to a greater or lesser extent. The drinking environment can be characterized as varying on a “wet-dry” continuum. A “wet” community environment is one in which drinking is prevalent and common, public opinion is generally tolerant or positive, and alcohol is readily available both commercially and at private social occasions and is advertised as available. A “dry” community would be one in which drinking at social occasions is not the norm and is generally frowned on, and alcohol outlets are relatively scarce. One commonly used statistical indicator for the “wetness” of the environment is the per capita consumption of alcohol (the average number of drinks per person) for the population age 14 and over per year. In the United States, for example, per capita consumption ranged from 1.3 gallons of ethanol per capita in Utah to 2.8 gallons in Wisconsin, in 1997; see Table 4-1.

TABLE 4-1 Alcohol Consumption, 1999

State or Area

Ethanol*

Per Capita

Alabama

6,656

1.88

Alaska

1,346

2.88

Arizona

9,971

2.68

Arkansas

3,725

1.82

California

57,195

2.20

Colorado

8,305

2.57

Connecticut

5,953

2.26

Delaware

1,812

2.96

District of Columbia

1,647

3.74

Florida

32,773

2.66

Georgia

14,019

2.27



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