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Impact of overestimation of alcohol use and perceived campus norms on university students’ heavy drinking

 Many studies have shown that a strong predictor of college students’ alcohol use is their perception of how much their peers drink. A recent study investigated not only students’ perceptions, but also the actual alcohol use of their friends.

This study surveyed students three times throughout an academic year, having them report their own alcohol use, and to predict their friends’ alcohol use as well as the typical student at their university. Since these students were recruited to the study with their drinking groups, comparisons could be made between perceptions and actual alcohol use.

The data showed that participants overestimated their peers heavy episodic drinking by at least 2 days during each part of the study. Students who perceived their peers to be drinking more often had higher instances of alcohol use themselves. This effect was not as strong when students compared themselves to the campus norms of alcohol use.

This study suggests that students’ perceptions of their drinking group’s heavy alcohol use are more influential than actual alcohol use by their group, or alcohol use of the average college student.

Take Away: Students tend to overestimate instances of heavy episodic drinking within their drinking groups, and this can lead to individual increases in alcohol use. This effect is not reflective of actual alcohol use of peers or influence of campus norms.

 Dumas, T.M., Davis, J.P., Neighbors, C. (2018). How much does your peer group really drink? Examining the relative impact of overestimation, actual group drinking and perceived campus norms on university students’ heavy alcohol use. Addictive Behaviors. doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.11.041

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