For first-year students, mental health and social norms may influence drinking behaviors, consequences
Previous studies have documented that about one-third of U.S. college student report experiencing anxiety or depression. A new study investigated cross-sectional relationships among symptoms of anxiety and depression, perceived norms of important peers, drinking behaviors, and alcohol-related problems among a sample of first-year college students. Participants (n = 1,254) were first-semester college students living in on-campus housing at one U.S. university who completed the first wave of a larger longitudinal survey. The mean age of this sample was 18.7 years (SD = 0.51 years), 56% identified as female, and 56% identified as non-Hispanic White. Survey measures included self-reports of past-month alcohol consumption (number of drinks consumed and frequency of heavy drinking), alcohol consequences, frequency of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression in the past month, and demographic characteristics. Each participant also identified up to 10 of their classmates whom they deemed important people in their lives and then reported perceived descriptive and injunctive norms about drinking for these individuals. The authors analyzed the interactions of perceptions and mental health on alcohol consumption and consequences using network autocorrelation models. Results indicated anxiety and depression symptoms were negatively associated with alcohol consumption, but positively associated to total negative consequences (p < 0.01 and p < 0.00001, respectively). There were also significant interactions between descriptive perceptions and consequences among participants with higher levels of anxiety (p < 0.001), but not among participants with low levels of anxiety (p = 0.57). Among participants who reported low levels of depressed mood, there was a significant interaction between injunctive perceptions and past-month consumption (p < 0.001). No significant interactions between injunctive perceptions and consequences were observed for either level of depressed mood. Descriptive perceptions significantly interacted with number of drinks consumed among students with high (p < 0.001) and low (p < 0.001) levels of depression, as well as heavy drinking frequency (ps for both levels < 0.001).
Take away: In this study, college students’ perceptions of drinking-related descriptive norms among close friends interacted with their self-reported levels of anxiety and depressed mood. Perceptions of close friends’ drinking was positively associated with alcohol-related consequences among participants who reported depressed mood or anxiety, but not among participants with stronger mental health.
Kenney, S.R., DiGuieseppi, G.T., Meisel, M.K., Balestrieri, S.G. & Barnett, N.P. (2018). Poor mental health, peer drinking norms, and alcohol risk in a social network of first-year college students. Addictive Behaviors [published online ahead of print April 16, 2018] doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.04.012