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Do Your Teen’s Music Preferences Predict Substance Misuse?

Teen girls listening to music

“You just KNOW that teenagers who listen to [insert musical genre] music are the same ones who are addicted to [insert substance here]!”

This sentence could have been uttered in any one of several previous decades. Just how true does it ring today? Is the relationship between music and substance misuse just a myth? Or is there actually something to it?

What Types of Music Do Teen Who Misuse Substances Listen To?

The link between music and drug or alcohol use has two components. The obvious one is whether adolescents who favor a particular type of music (such as rap, country, heavy metal or pop) also tend to experiment with alcohol or illicit drugs. However, many parents are less concerned about musical genres than they are about the messages in the songs themselves that glorify or glamorize substance use.

Over the years, there has been substantial research which examined teenagers’ musical tastes and whether they correlate with drug or alcohol consumption. A key study was published in 2006 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs by scientists from Berkeley, California.

Researchers asked over 1,000 community college students (aged 15 to 25) about what types of music they listened to and whether they had tried alcohol, marijuana or various “club” drugs (amphetamines, ecstasy, or hallucinogens) within the previous year. They discovered strong positive correlations between rap music and alcohol, marijuana or club drug use. Techno and reggae music were both positively linked to alcohol consumption as well as marijuana and club drug use, respectively.

Rap musicians

On the other hand, country music was negatively correlated with club drug use. In other words, country music aficionados were less likely to experiment with amphetamines, ecstasy or hallucinogens. Similarly, world music was negatively correlated with marijuana use.

Other Teen Substance Use/Musical Taste Studies

In addition, a Dutch study published in 2009 in the journal Substance Use and Misuse examined the self-reported behavior patterns of more than 7,300 youths aged 12 to 16. The research revealed that greater substance use among adolescents was associated with “non-mainstream” music styles (in this case, punk/hardcore, reggae, and techno/hardhouse), while music that was more palatable to adults (namely pop and classical music) was associated with less substance use.

More recently, a 2014 Project Know study looked at substance use references in popular songs. Researchers polled 60 college students about their substance use behavior and also asked them to submit the 20 most-listened-to songs on their digital music devices. The songs were inspected for substance use references, and a link was discovered between increased substance use and the greater number of references to drug or alcohol use in the song lyrics.

Rock musicians

No Need to Panic and Begin Deleting Music

There’s no scientific consensus on whether specific music preferences predict teen addiction or whether adolescents who consume drugs or alcohol are just more likely to listen to certain musical genres. (Peer substance use is also suspected of being a contributing factor.) For parents, this distinction is usually irrelevant; they’re just trying to spot indicators of substance use in their teens’ lives, and their kids’ music choices can possibly be a red flag.

To be sure, finding certain songs on a teen’s digital music device does not automatically mean he or she is experimenting with alcohol or drugs. Lots of teenagers listen to a wide range of music, and their tastes are heavily influenced by their peers and the current popularity of songs or musical artists.

However, if parents also notice other signs of substance misuse like drug paraphernalia, sudden changes in mood or social activities, or unexplained physical ailments, then they should consider talking to their adolescent children about potential drug or alcohol use. There may not be any cause to prohibit their teens from listening to certain music genres or artists, but it may be necessary to seek help from health care professionals or addiction treatment programs to determine whether the teenager is struggling with a substance use disorder.

if you’re worried that your teen may have a substance use disorder, contact Next Generation Village to learn more about teen-focused rehab programs.

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