Substance use behaviours and normative beliefs in North West European University and college students

John McAlaney, Cécile R. Boot, Marie Dahlin, Tomi Lintonen, Christiane Stock, Susan Rasmussen, Guido Van Hal

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


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 that individuals hold about their peers. However there have been few direct comparisons of substance use misperceptions between student populations in different European countries. In this chapter we try 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 6,404 students was obtained. Mann-Whitney and chi-square 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
Title of host publicationUniversity and College Students
Subtitle of host publicationHealth and Development Issues for the Leaders of Tomorrow
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781626186125
ISBN (Print)9781626185869
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

Cite this