Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Longitudinal Modeling of Adolescent Normative Beliefs and Substance Initiation

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Longitudinal Modeling of Adolescent Normative Beliefs and Substance Initiation

Article excerpt


The current study investigated the effects of baseline levels of academic achievement and longitudinal trends in normative beliefs on adolescent substance initiation across a 42-month time period. Participants were 272 rural adolescents who were an average of 12.3 years old at the baseline assessment. Academic achievement positively predicted the intercept and negatively predicted the growth-trajectory of normative beliefs regarding peer substance behavior. Further, baseline academic achievement negatively predicted initial levels, as well as the growth-trajectory, of substance initiation. The discussion addresses the influence of academic achievement and normative beliefs on substance initiation and the utility of latent growth curve modeling in studying longitudinal change. In addition, implications for prevention programming are discussed.


Research models investigating the linkages between adolescent substance use and beliefs about normative behavior generally have revealed strong, positive associations (Botvin, Griffin, Diaz, & Ifill-Williams, 2001; Botvin, Botvin, Baker, Dusenbury, & Goldberg, 1992; Ennett & Bauman, 1991; Krohn, Akers, Radosevich, & Lanza-Kaduce, 1982; Lowman, 1982; Petraitis, Flay, & Miller, 1995). However, longitudinal empirical studies of the association between beliefs about normative behavior and substance initiation behaviors have been less extensive. The focus of the current study was on the longitudinal growth-trajectories of beliefs about peer and adult normative behavior and substance initiation. Beliefs about normative use were defined as perceptions concerning levels of specific peer and adult substance use behaviors. The next section briefly reviews the relationship between normative beliefs and substance initiation.

During adolescence, beliefs related to normative behavior (e.g., substance use) undergo a transition as new information from differing groups is integrated into a personal cognitive framework. As part of that transition, adolescents progress from an almost exclusive identification with their parents to a reliance on peers. This transition combines with exposure to differing social groups and the media to influence adolescents' beliefs about normative substance use behavior. Normative beliefs are influenced by a variety of factors including the behavior of the referent group(s) with which adolescents most closely identify (Guerra, Huesmann, & Hanish, 1995). Findings from the literature are mixed concerning the influence of referent group(s) (e.g., parents and peers) on adolescents' normative beliefs (Glynn, 1981; Kandel & Lesser, 1969). Although many theories have been developed to explain the differential influence of multiple referent groups, the amount of variance in adolescent substance use accounted for by the perceived behavior of peers has been found to greatly exceed that accounted for by the perceived behavior of parents and other adults (Hansen, Graham, Sobel, Shelton, Flay, & Johnson, 1987). For example, beliefs about peer normative behavior, as compared to beliefs about adult normative behavior have been found to be more predictive of adolescent tobacco use (Botvin et al., 1992). Alternatively, peer non-use normative beliefs have been negatively associated with adolescent substance use (Johnson, 1986; Ried, Martinson, & Weaver, 1987). Research findings have documented greater overestimations of peer substance behavior among substance using adolescents compared with their non-using counterparts (Presson, Chassin, Sherman, Olshavsky, Bensenberg, & Corty, 1983).

Early theories regarding normative beliefs described a concept known as the "false consensus effect" (Ross, Greene, & House, 1977, p. 279). According to the false consensus effect, prevalence rate over-estimations predict subsequent engagement in that behavior. Two hypothesized mechanisms have been documented that might contribute to the false consensus effect: (a) the need to validate personal behavior and (b) selective exposure that fosters the perception that others are engaged in similar activities (Botvin et al. …

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