Heavy episodic drinking and alcohol consumption in French colleges: the role of perceived social norms.Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2010; 34(1):164-74AC
The effect of normative perceptions (social norms) on heavy episodic drinking (HED) behavior is well known in the U.S. college setting, but little work is available in other cultural contexts. The objective of this study is therefore to assess whether social norms of alcohol use are related to HED in France, taking account of other influential predictors.
A cross-sectional survey was carried out among 731 second-year university students in the Paris region to explore the role of 29 potential alcohol use risk factors. The probability of heavy episodic drinking and the frequency of HED among heavy episodic drinkers were modeled independently. Monthly alcohol consumption was also assessed.
Of the students, 56% overestimate peer student prevalence of HED (37% for alcohol drinking prevalence). HED frequency rises with perceived peer student prevalence of HED. Other social norms associated with HED are perceived friends' approval of HED (increasing both HED probability and HED frequency) and perceived friend prevalence of alcohol drinking (increasing HED probability only). Cannabis and tobacco use, academic discipline, gender, and the number of friends are also identified as being associated with HED.
Overestimation of peer student prevalence is not uncommon among French university students. Furthermore, perceived peer student prevalence of HED is linked to HED frequency, even after adjusting for other correlates. Interventions correcting misperceived prevalences of HED among peer students have therefore the potential to reduce the frequency of HED in this population.