New study shows potentially troubling depictions of underage drinking on TikTok

100 videos showed "alcohol use in a positive light, rather than being harmful."

September 23, 2021, 10:00 AM

TikTok trends may come and go, but some images could have lasting impacts and influence particularly on younger app users.

That's why the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs set out to create a snapshot of a dangerous trend that has permeated the platform in a new U.S.-based study.

The research looked at 100 of the most popular TikTok videos from July 2019 to August 2020 with the hashtag #alcohol and found that a majority "portrayed potentially dangerous alcohol use in a positive light, rather than being harmful."

Collectively, those videos had been viewed over 290 million times with over 40 million likes and more than 2 million shares, the study said.

The study found that 98% of the videos expressed positive views about alcohol use and nearly half associated alcohol with camaraderie.

Just 4% of the content that was researched portrayed a negative association with alcohol.

Additionally, the study found distilled spirits -- hard alcohol like rum, whiskey, vodka, etc. -- were the most depicted type of alcohol, while wine was the least represented.

Experts note that those kinds of depictions and posts can have a profound influence on kids.

Kristina Giorgi, addiction expert and founder of Full Circle Intervention, told "GMA" that "watching these images in some way grants permission -- These behaviors become normalized."

She added, "It's so dangerous and can cause physical and emotional harm."

With over 100 million TikTok users, the video-creating platform is widely popular with a young demographic. Some research shows more than 37 million Gen-Z users are on the app regularly.

Parenting expert Rachel Simmons warned that parents need to speak to their kids about what they see on social media and check in on the accounts that they follow.

"Pretending this isn't happening is not an option. We have to talk with our kids about where we stand," she said. "We have to set limits where we can."

Simmons continued, "We know social media can be a public health hazard to teenagers. We know that our kids are stumbling on this content. And at what point, how much more information do we need about the impact of social media before we set up some guardrails for them?"

Dr. Madhu Vennikandam, a contributor in the ABC News medical unit who examined the study, said there appears to be "no measures currently in place to limit underage youth exposure to alcohol content portrayed in videos on TikTok," which she explained has also been true in "prior studies on other social medial platforms including Twitter and Instagram which also didn't impose any viewer age limit."

She continued, "this study shows that there is an opportunity for public health professionals to use TikTok to counteract this social media trend."

TikTok did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

While this specific study only focused on the hashtag #alcohol, dozens of drinking videos pop up under other popular variations like party, live for the weekend and yolo.

The same experts said parents should continue to explain to kids why alcohol abuse is harmful because message repetition is key.