Social Drinking Perceptions In Adolescents

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Social Drinking Perceptions In Adolescents

Social Drinking Perceptions In Adolescents


One framework for understanding adolescent involvement in substance-related risk behavior is the misperceived-norms model. This model maintains that risk taking, in the form of substance use, is modulated by the adolescent's perceptions of peers' smoking, drinking, and drug use practices. Research on middle school and high school students, as well as college students, has shown that young people typically overestimate or exaggerate the amount of drinking and drug use in their social environment.

Perceptions of these norms become biased because adolescents interact mostly with other teens and less with older adults, and because in social situations, stories about recent drinking episodes, parties, or other social gatherings become embellished and bragged about in conversation. Furthermore, in social situations, attention is usually directed toward the extreme behavior (eg, drunkenness) of a small fraction of people, rather than toward the less noticeable behavior of the majority. Under such conditions, young people tend to rely on a biased or "false" norm to make decisions about substance use (eg, "everyone gets drunk on the weekend"). As a result, adolescents often adopt permissive conduct norms for smoking, drinking, and other drug use. Investigations have consistently found that perceived norms among proximal reference groups (eg, close friends) are more closely linked to risk behavior than are perceived norms for distal reference groups (eg, typical student at my school). However, distal reference-group norms maintain significant, though weaker, relationships with risk behavior even when accounting for the influence of proximal group norms.

Distal normative influences may take many forms. According to Maggs, common depictions of college student life, among both teenagers still in high school and older adults (many years after college graduation), are characterized by tales of wild parties and outrageous exploits carried out under the influence of alcohol. Adults may recollect these incidents with a mixture of humor, relief, and regret; but for teenagers, these powerful images may generate excitement about experiences yet to come. Such images may take the form of perceived norms and thereby influence, or perhaps, be markers of substance use in middle school and high school students. The assessment of perceived substance-use norms is in its infancy. Many possible sources of normative influence on alcohol and other drug-risk behavior have not yet been evaluated in the middle school/high school population. The purpose of this investigation is to examine the multivariate relationships between perceived norms for alcohol use (including perceptions of college student drinking) and tobacco, alcohol, and drug use in teenagers. Alcohol norms were selected as the focus for this study because drinking is more normative than tobacco use or illegal drug use among adolescents and thus more likely to exist as a perceptual attribute, especially among younger teens.

The investigators expected to find that indicators of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use would be most closely related to normative perceptions of close friends' drinking behavior, followed by perceptions of typical students' (current school) drinking behavior and perceptions of college student drinking ...
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