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Addiction. 2017 Jan;112 Suppl 1:94-101. doi: 10.1111/add.13626. Epub 2016 Dec 6.

Vulnerability to alcohol-related problems: a policy brief with implications for the regulation of alcohol marketing.

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Department of Community Medicine and Health Care, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, CT, 06030, USA.



The concern that alcohol advertising can have detrimental effects on vulnerable viewers has prompted the development of codes of responsible advertising practices. This paper evaluates critically the concept of vulnerability as it applies to (1) susceptibility to alcohol-related harm and (2) susceptibility to the effects of marketing, and describes its implications for the regulation of alcohol marketing.


We describe the findings of key published studies, review papers and expert reports to determine whether these two types of vulnerability apply to population groups defined by (1) age and developmental history; (2) personality characteristics; (3) family history of alcoholism; (4) female sex and pregnancy risk; and (5) history of alcohol dependence and recovery status.


Developmental theory and research suggest that groups defined by younger age, incomplete neurocognitive development and a history of alcohol dependence may be particularly vulnerable because of the disproportionate harm they experience from alcohol and their increased susceptibility to alcohol marketing. Children may be more susceptible to media imagery because they do not have the ability to compensate for biases in advertising portrayals and glamorized media imagery.


Young people and people with a history of alcohol dependence appear to be especially vulnerable to alcohol marketing, warranting the development of new content and exposure guidelines focused on protecting those groups to improve current self-regulation codes promoted by the alcohol industry. If adequate protections cannot be implemented through this mechanism, statutory regulations should be considered.


Adolescents; advertising; alcohol; children; cue-reactivity; marketing; regulation; sex and gender; vulnerability

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