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Anti-drinking advertising campaigns that show young people in drunken incidents, being thrown out of a club, being helped home or passing out in public could be "catastrophically misconceived" according to researchers in the United Kingdom. Rather than serving as a warning, the "drinking stories" ads may be seen by young people as a fun night out.

A team of UK researchers recently completed a three-year study of anti-drinking advertising campaigns that feature "drinking stories" of young people. They found such stories can be seen by a mark of their social identity, rather than cautionary tales.

"Extreme inebriation is often seen as a source of personal esteem and social affirmation amongst young people," said Professor Christine Griffin in a news release. "Our detailed research interviews revealed that tales of alcohol-related mishaps and escapades were key markers of young peoples' social identity. These 'drinking stories' also deepen bonds of friendship and cement group membership. Not only does being in a friendship group legitimize being very drunk - being the subject of an extreme drinking story can raise esteem within the group."

The group studied 94 young people in three different regions of the U.K. over a three-year period.

Social Bonding Ritual

"Inebriation within the friendship group is often part of a social bonding ritual that is viewed positively and linked with fun, friendship and good times, although some young people can be the target of humiliating or risky activities," said Professor Chris Hackley. "This suggests that anti-drinking advertising campaigns that target this kind of behavior may be catastrophically misconceived."

Students caught in such embarrassing situations see them as temporary problems, the researchers said.

"While many young people recognize the damage that 'drinking too much' can do to their health, and the associated risks of physical and sexual assault, few view these as more than short term problems," said Professor Isabelle Szmigin.

Researchers from the University of Bath led the research with colleagues from Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Birmingham.

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