A comparison of substance use behaviours and normative beliefs in North West European university and college students

John McAlaney, Cecile Boot, Marie Dahlin, Tomi Lintonen, Christine Stock, Susan Rasmussen, Guido Van Hal

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8 Citations (Scopus)


The social norms approach is an increasingly popular intervention for substance use that has been used extensively in the American college system. It operates by correcting normative misperceptions individuals hold about their peers. However, there have been few direct comparisons of substance use misperceptions between student populations in different European countries. The current study sought to address this through use of a survey of substance use and normative beliefs at universities in five European countries. Students at each site were invited to take part in an online survey that included items on personal substance use and the perceived use of peers. A total sample of 6404 students was obtained. Mann-Whitney and χ2 analysis were used to demonstrate an apparent misperception effect, with the majority of students at each site significantly (p<0.05) overestimating the substance use of their peers. This study suggests that students in Europe are prone to misperceiving the substance use of their peers in a manner similar to their American college counterparts, despite the cultural and legislative differences between these settings. This provides support for the potential in using social norms approaches to reduce rates of harmful substance use in European student populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-287
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal on Disability and Human Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


  • alcohol
  • drug use
  • smoking
  • social norms
  • students

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