An increasing number of published studies have shown
that the social norms approach is an effective method of promoting
health and reducing harm among college students. Positive results
have been documented at large schools and small, both public and private,
and in all parts of the country. (For a review of the relevant literature,
select the "Case Studies" link in the navigation panel to
the left of this page.)
Inspired by the positive impact that these and other
colleges and universities have experienced promoting student health
using the social norms approach, a growing number of middle schools,
high schools, and communities have begun to investigate the possibility
of implementing their own social norms projects. One critical question
for school and community-based projects that are focused on alcohol,
tobacco, or other drug (ATOD) issues is whether the adolescent target
population exhibits a norm of nonuse. This is a particularly important
consideration as regards alcohol, given that messages promoting norms
of moderate and safe use—routinely disseminated in social norms
projects on college campuses—are impermissible among middle
and high school student populations for whom abstinence is the only
A review of the literature reveals numerous research
findings that strongly suggest that the social norms approach is an
appropriate strategy for targeting the full range of substance use
in secondary education. One study, for example, found clear norms
of peer abstinence from tobacco and illicit drugs, as well as viable
norms of nonuse of alcohol, among both middle and high school students
in a range of schools across the nation (Perkins and Craig, 2003).
Both this and a number of other studies have also shown that the overestimation
of peer alcohol and cigarette use is widespread among students of
middle and high school age (Perkins and Craig, 2003; Botvin et al,
2001; D'Amico et al., 2001; Sussman et al., 1988; Thombs, Wolcott,
and Farkash, 1997; Beck and Treiman, 1996). Other research has found
that overestimation of peer use is a significant predictor of adolescent
cigarette and alcohol use (D'Amico et al, 2001; Botvin et al., 2001;
Graham, Marks, and Hansen, 1991), and that adolescent onset of use
can be significantly delayed by reducing misperceptions of alcohol
and cigarette use among peers (Haines, Barker, Rice, 2003; Linkenbach
and Perkins, 2003; Perry et al., 1992; Hansen and Graham, 1991).
Beck, K.H. and Treiman, K.A. The
relationship of social context drinking, perceived social norms, and
parental influence to various drinking patterns of adolescents. Addictive
Botvin, G.J. et al. Preventing binge
drinking during early adolescence: One- and two-year follow-up of
a school based preventive intervention. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors,
D'Amico, E.J. et al. Progression
into and out of binge drinking among high school students. Psychology
of Addictive Behaviors, 15:341-349, 2001.
Graham, J., Marks, G., and Hansen, W.
Social influence processes affecting adolescent substance use. Journal
of Applied Psychology. 1991: 16(2), 291-298.
Haines, M.P., Barker, G., and Rice, R.
Using social norms to reduce alcohol and tobacco use in two midwestern
high schools. In Perkins, H.W. (Ed.) The Social Norms Approach To
Preventing School And College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook For
Educators, Counselors, And Clinicians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
Hansen, W. B. & J. W. Graham.
Preventing alcohol, marijuana, and cigarette use among adolescents:
Peer pressure resistance training versus establishing conservative
norms. Preventive Medicine, 20, 414-430, 1991.
Linkenbach, J.W. and Perkins, H.W.
MOST of Us are tobacco free: an eight-month social norms campaign
reducing youth initiation of smoking in Montana. In Perkins, H.W.
(Ed.) The Social Norms Approach to Preventing School and College Age
Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators, Counselors, and Clinicians.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
Perkins, H. W.and Craig, D. Substance
Use Norms and the Developmental Pattern of Misperceptions in Secondary
Education." In The Social Norms Approach To Preventing School
And College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook For Educators, Counselors,
And Clinicians, Ed. H. Wesley Perkins. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
Perry, C.L., Kelder, S.H., Murray, D.M., and
Knut-Inge, K. Communitywide smoking prevention: long-term
outcomes on the Minnesota Heart Health Program and the class of 1989
study. American Journal of Public Health. 1992:82(9), 1210-1216.
Sussman, S. et al. Adolescent nonsmokers,
triers, and regular smokers' estimates of cigarette smoking prevalence:
when do overestimations occur and by whom? Journal of Applied Social
Psychology, 1988:18, 537-555.
Thombs, D.L. et al. Social context,
perceived norms and drinking behavior in young people. Journal of
Substance Abuse, 9:257-267, 1997.