TV soaps urged to show bad side of booze

Drinkaware: accuses soaps of glorifying alcohol
Drinkaware: accuses soaps of glorifying alcohol

Soaps are guilty of glorifying alcohol consumption by portraying it largely in a positive light, according to a new study by alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware.

Monitoring by the body over a six-week period found that alcohol plays a key part in UK soap operas.

Some 38% of the coverage monitored across 'Coronation Street', 'Eastenders', 'Emmerdale' and 'Hollyoak's' featured visual or verbal mentions of alcohol.  

Drinkaware claims alcohol consumption was generally not portrayed responsibly, as the negative consequences were not adequately outlined.

Characters were most often depicted drinking while socialising, which reinforced the message to the viewer that you need alcohol to "have a good time".  

Alcohol was also used by various characters as a crutch to ease stress or as a form of relaxation, particularly in 'Coronation Street', 'Eastenders' and  'Emmerdale'.

'Emmerdale' depicted the most alcohol consumption across the six weeks (293 glasses/bottles) and also had the highest average number of drinks consumed per episode (eight glasses/bottles).

Beer was the most prominent alcoholic beverage in 'Coronation Street', 'Eastenders' and 'Emmerdale', but white wine and champagne were predominant in 'Hollyoaks'.

 Where negative portrayals of alcohol were presented, they were driven by "out-of-the-ordinary’ storylines such as Phil Mitchell’s alcoholism and descent into drug addiction in 'Eastenders' or Shadrach Dingle’s death from alcoholism in 'Emmerdale'.

Chris Sorek, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: "British soaps’ current representation of the substantial role alcohol plays in peoples’ lives isn’t too far from reality, but with research showing people, and particularly children, make assumptions about acceptable real-life behaviour from their television viewing, it’s important the negative effects of drinking too much aren’t down-played."

Sorek called for producers to "weave some consequences of drinking to excess into soaps", arguing that it would not require fundamental script or storyline changes.

He added: "We need to avoid normalising the idea of consequence-free drinking to excess, especially among under-18s, so people of all ages can make informed decisions about their own drinking based on the facts."

David Poley, chief executive of drinks industry marketing watchdog the Portman Group, welcomed the research: "The biggest challenge in the battle against alcohol misuse is to change social acceptance of excessive drinking.  

"Drinks companies adhere to strict controls when they advertise alcohol. Their efforts, however, risk being undermined if programme makers glamorise irresponsible drinking."

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