News Release

References to explicit substance use common in popular music

Peer-Reviewed Publication

JAMA Network

Approximately one-third of popular songs include reference to explicit drug, alcohol or tobacco use, although this portrayal varies widely by musical genre, according to a report in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

The influence of music on humans has been recognized for centuries, according to background information in the article. “While 15- to 18-year-old adolescents are forming health attitudes and behaviors that will last a lifetime, they are exposed to 2.4 hours of music per day, according to a large nationally representative study,” the authors write. Most (98 percent) children and adolescents have a radio and CD or MP3 player in their home and many of them have these in their bedrooms.

Brian A. Primack, Ed.M., M.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed Billboard magazine’s 279 most popular songs of 2005. They noted every mention of substance use in pop, rock, R&B/hip-hop, country and rap songs and determined the motivations for, associations with and consequences of use within each genre.

“Overall, 116 of the 279 unique songs (41.6 percent) had a substance use reference of any kind. Ninety-three songs (33.3 percent) contained explicit substance use references,” the authors note. One or more references to substance use were found in three of 35 pop songs (9 percent), nine of 66 rock songs (14 percent), 11 of 55 R&B/hip-hop songs (20 percent), 22 of 61 country songs (36 percent) and 48 of 62 rap songs (77 percent). “While only 2.9 percent of the 279 songs portrayed tobacco use, 23.7 depicted alcohol use, 13.6 percent depicted marijuana use and 11.5 percent depicted other or unspecified substance use.”

In the 93 songs referencing substance use, the behavior was most often motivated by peer/social pressure (48 percent) or sex (30 percent). Use of the substance(s) was frequently associated with partying (54 percent), sex (46 percent), violence (29 percent) and/or humor (24 percent). “Only four songs (4 percent) contained explicit anti-use messages, and none portrayed substance refusal,” the authors write. “Most songs with substance use (63 [68 percent]) portrayed more positive than negative consequences; these positive consequences were most commonly social, sexual, financial or emotional.”

“In summary, children and adolescents are heavily exposed to substance use in popular music, and this exposure varies widely by genre. Substance use in music is frequently motivated by peer acceptance and sex, and it has highly positive associations and consequences,” the authors conclude. “Research is needed to (1) determine the potency of exposure to substance use messages in music in adolescents and (2) determine the effects of various types of substance abuse messages, such as those with certain associations and consequences.”


(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162[2]:169-175. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor’s Note: This study was supported in part by a career development award from the National Cancer Institute; by a Physician Faculty Scholar Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; by a grant from the Maurice Falk Foundation; and in part by a career development award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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