Soaps portrayal of alcohol consumption attacked


On average, over a third (38%) of soap air time features alcohol, but the negative consequences of drinking to excess are rarely shown, according to new research by alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware. 

Despite 162 instances of characters drinking to excess2 over a six week monitoring period, only 1.5% of alcohol scenes portrayed hangovers and less than 1% combined showed alcohol-related sickness, crime, regret or anti-social behaviour.

With 42% of 11-17 year olds watching pre-watershed soaps and research showing actions without an obvious consequence are more likely to be copied,  Drinkaware is concerned that soaps’ under-representation of the adverse effects of drinking to excess may perpetuate a view among millions of under 18s that regular drinking doesn’t have negative consequences.  

The study examined the representation of alcohol in the UK’s top four soap operas - Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks.  Consistent with real life, it finds that soap characters were most often depicted drinking alcohol as an aid to socialising or celebration, or to relieve stress.  However harmful effects of excessive drinking were generally only associated with extreme storylines such as Shadrach Dingle’s death from alcoholism in Emmerdale.

Other observations from the research include:

  • Nearly one fifth of soap coverage (17%) features ‘active’ depictions of alcohol consumption, where a character is drinking, buying or accepting an alcoholic drink.
  • More than two fifths (43%) of adults would turn to a cup of tea to relax after a stressful day, while a third (34%) would have an alcoholic drink.  In soaps however, 15% of scenes featuring alcohol represent it as an aid to relaxation but only 9% of all scenes feature tea.
  • 836 drinks (equivalent to more than 3000 units of alcohol) were consumed during the six week monitoring period, including 188 pints of beer, 286 glasses of wine and champagne and 84 servings of spirits. 
  • Emmerdale tops the tipple chart, with an average of eight drinks consumed per episode.  A more restrained Hollyoaks cast consumed just four drinks per show.  Coronation Street and Eastenders tie on an average consumption of 7 drinks per show.

Chris Sorek, Chief Executive of Drinkaware, said: “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.

 “When viewers sit down to watch a soap they want to be entertained and certainly aren’t expecting to see a public health campaign. But soaps are still a useful channel to get information to viewers.  We need to avoid normalising the idea of consequence-free drinking to excess, especially among under 18s."

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