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Perception of peer use and harmfulness of substances linked with personal use among nursing students

A new study examined the relationship between student nurses’ perceptions of peer substance misuse, perceptions of harmfulness of substance misuse and their own substance misuse. Participants (N = 4033) were nursing students who were members of the National Student Nurse Association (NSNA). The majority of participants were female, between the ages of 17 and 27 years and were enrolled in a baccalaureate-nursing program. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, a personal use survey, which included questions relating to their personal use of alcohol, marijuana, illegal drugs, amphetamine-like drugs for academic enhancement, and non-prescribed prescription drugs in the last year. They also completed a survey of their beliefs about substance use, which included questions about their beliefs about harmfulness and perception of peer use, these questions were taken from the Monitoring the Future Survey. The authors performed descriptive statistics on the demographic characteristics of participants and conducted multiple logistic regressions to examine the relationship of substance use to perceptions of peer use and of harmfulness. Results showed that 39% of participants had zero occasions of drinking more than five drinks in a row, however, 37% of participants had between one and five occasions of drinking five drinks in a row. In addition, more than 80% of participants had zero occasions of using other substances. Excessive drinking was the substance with the highest perception of peer use (SD = 1.00), while using illegal drugs had the lowest perception of peer use (SD = 0.60). Illegal drugs were considered the most harmful substance (SD = 0.77), and marijuana use was considered the leas harmful (SD = 0.92). Furthermore, there was a significant and predictive association between participants’ perceptions of peer excessive drinking, marijuana use, illegal drug use, stimulant use for academic enhancement, non-prescribed prescription drugs and perceptions of the harmfulness of excessive drinking with student’s own use of these substances (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perception of peer binge drinking, participants were more than 2.8 times more likely to binge drink (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perception of harmfulness, participants were 45% less likely to binge drink (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perception of peer marijuana use, participants were three times more likely to use marijuana (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perceived harmfulness, participants were 59% less likely to use marijuana (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perception of peer illegal drug use, participants were more than 3.6 times more likely to use illegal drugs (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perception of harmfulness, participants were 41% less likely to use illegal drugs (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perception of peer stimulant use, participants were three times more likely to use stimulants (p < 0.001). For each one-unit increase in perception of harmfulness, participants were 44% less likely to use stimulants (p < 0.001). Participants were also more than four times more likely to misuse non-prescribed drugs if they thought their peers did (p < 0.001). Lastly, for each one-unit increase in perception of harmfulness, participants were 43% less likely to use non-prescribed prescription drugs (p < 0.001).

Take away: This study found that for all five substances, participants’ perceptions of peer use were significantly and positively associated with their own use. Perceived harmfulness was found to be inversely associated with substance use.

Boulton, M. A., & O’Connell, K. A. (2017). Relationship of Student Nurses’ Substance Misuse to Perceptions of Peer Substance Use and Harmfulness. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing.

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