Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

The Association between Coach and Teammate Injunctive Norm Reference Groups and College Student-Athlete Substance Use

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

The Association between Coach and Teammate Injunctive Norm Reference Groups and College Student-Athlete Substance Use

Article excerpt


This study assessed perceptions about teammate and coach approval of alcohol and other drug use (i.e., injunctive norms) among a sample of 3,155 college student-athletes in their first year of athletic eligibility. Student-athletes perceived that their teammates were more approving of alcohol and other drug use as compared to coaches. A multi-level model analysis indicated that perceived approval from both teammates and coaches were independently associated with student-athletes 'alcohol and other drug use behaviors. Future research should explore whether substance use prevention programs that target normative beliefs specific to teammates and coaches may reduce alcohol and other drug use among college student-athletes.

Keywords: social norms, injunctive, athlete, coach, college, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana


Normative beliefs are one of the strongest predictors of college student substance use (Buckner, 2013; Neighbors, Lee, Lewis, Fossos, & Larimer, 2007). According to Social Norms Theory (Berkowitz, 2005; Perkins, 2002, 2003), individuals often have exaggerated perceptions of others approval of problem behaviors. These perceptions about other's approval of problem behaviors (e.g., a perception that other college students think it is acceptable to use marijuana) are known as injunctive norms (Borsari & Carey, 2003; Cialdini, Kallgren, & Reno, 1990; Perkins, 2002; Rinker & Neighbors, 2013). Social Norms Theory suggests that inaccurate injunctive norms may motivate individuals to increase their own problem behaviors to fit their view of normal behavior. Research findings among college students reflect Social Norms Theory, showing that students tend to overestimate others' acceptability of substance use (Alva, 1998; Baer, 1994; Barnett, Far, Mauss, & Miller, 1996; Carey, Borsari, Carey, & Maisto, 2006; Prentice & Miller, 1993; Schroeder & Prentice, 1998) and that those perceptions are related to one's personal use of substances (Borsari & Carey, 2001, 2003; Larimer, Turner, Mallett, & Geisner, 2004; Perkins & Wechsler, 1996). Research on Social Norms Theory also indicates that injunctive norms fluctuate when considering various groups of others, known as reference groups (Neighbors, O'Connor, Lewis, Chawla, Lee, & Fossos, 2008; Patrick, Neighbors, & Lee, 2012). For instance, Neighbors and colleagues found that college students perceived that their friends had a lower approval rating of alcohol use as compared to a typical college student. The authors also found that the perception of friends' approval of drinking was positively associated with drinking behavior, while a negative association to drinking was found with the perception of the typical student's approval of drinking (Neighbors et al., 2008).

In the literature, a plethora of studies on injunctive norms have been conducted on the college student population, but only a few studies on this topic have focused specifically on college student-athletes. One study found that the injunctive norms held towards a "typical athlete" reference group were a strong predictor for personal attitudes towards drinking (Hummer, LaBrie, & Lac, 2009). The other studies tested several variables' ability to classify student-athletes as heavy drinkers, with perceptions of their coaches' attitudes towards alcohol use being one of only a few variables associated with heavy drinking (Lewis, 2008; Thombs, 2000). Although these studies were the first to examine injunctive norms held by student-athletes, they were limited by researching injunctive norms held towards a single reference group, not allowing researchers to determine fluctuation between multiple reference groups to identify which are more strongly related to student-athlete substance use behaviors.

It may seem irrelevant to study injunctive norms of student-athletes, since they fall under the "college student" umbrella; however, the distinction between the two groups is very important. …

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