Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

The Role of Injunctive Norms and Alcohol Use during the First-Semester of College

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

The Role of Injunctive Norms and Alcohol Use during the First-Semester of College

Article excerpt


Injunctive norms, or perceived peer approval of drinking is a potentially important influence on college student drinking. Few studies on college student drinking have attended to injunctive norms during the first few months of college. Longitudinal data from 534 first semester freshmen are used to describe the contributions of injunctive norms to alcohol consumption. Injunctive norms were measured by peer approval of drinking and alcohol consumption was measured by the typical number of drinks consumed in the past 30-days while partying. Results indicate that injunctive norms were a significant predictor of drinking after controlling for gender and effects of time.


The transition to college is a crucial time for first-year students when the natural history and progression of alcohol use are at peak levels (Schulenberg, Bachman, O'Malley & Johnston, 1994). Although values, beliefs, and behavior patterns may have been established prior to matriculation to college, the transition to college may disrupt established patterns and leave students open to new influences on drinking. For instance, the absence of parents, insecurities in adjusting to college, difficulties coping with stress, home sickness, and loneliness or isolation are a few factors that may lead to the desire to consume alcohol at increased quantities. (2-7) Furthermore, the selection of a new peer-group has been identified as the strongest single predictor of young adult alcohol use. (8-11) Specifically, first-year college students, who select to associate with peers who largely approve of alcohol consumption, are more likely to consume alcohol themselves. (12-15) Thus, peer influences, including injunctive norms, should be considered as an important predictor of alcohol-related problems.

The misuse of alcohol is a major social and health issue for college students in the United States. (16) At the time of this study statistics indicate that 85.6% of college students consumed alcohol in the past year. (17) Under the legal drinking age of 21, many first-year students have not been exposed to the quantity at which alcohol is consumed at college, thus intensifying the potential for alcohol-related problems. (18) Nationally, nearly half of first-year college students meet criteria for binge drinking. (17)

Building on the seminal social norms research from the 1980's, (19) a study by Graham and colleagues established that different types of peer influences (i.e. direct and indirect) have the ability to impact first-year student alcohol use in unique ways. (20) Indirect peer influences are an individual's perception and interpretation of peers' drinking behaviors. (21) There are two different means for assessing indirect peer influence commonly referenced in the college alcohol literature: social modeling (i.e. emulating peer behavior) and perceived norms. The definition of perceived norms is challenging to interpret in the college alcohol literature because it is comprised of two distinct sub-components: 1) descriptive norms and 2) injunctive norms. Collectively, descriptive and injunctive norms greatly influence what a first-year student will perceive as either acceptable or unacceptable behavior. (22) Unfortunately, previous college alcohol studies have not defined perceived norms or clearly differentiated between the two types, making it difficult to determine how norms, or which type of norms, most directly influence drinking behaviors. (21,23)

Specific to this study, injunctive norms are the least studied perceived norms sub-types. Injunctive norms, for purposes of this study, are defined as the perception of peer's approval of drinking (also know as the norm of "ought" or "prescriptive norms"). (21,24-26) Injunctive norms strongly impact personal alcohol use, and peer approval of drinking is hypothesized to be more influential than institution-based norms. (27-29) Thus, drinking levels perceived to be appropriate by highly regarded individuals (i. …

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