Perception of Social Support Influences Drinking Behavior Among College Students

Responding to peer pressure is an important focus of prevention education when it comes to reducing the use of alcohol among young people. Teaching individuals how to respond when friends pressure them is a key component to avoiding initiation of alcohol use. However, pressure to drink is not always so overt. Young people may make choices based on a perceived understanding of what behavior is expected of them. This unspoken pressure on young people was demonstrated in the results of a study conducted recently (Cullum, O’Grady, Sandoval, Armeli & Tennen, 2013). The findings showed that among college students, their perceptions of social support often influence their behaviors related to alcohol consumption, in an effort to fit in with a social group. The study involved 498 college students, consisting of primarily freshman and sophomore participants, who were recruited from a psychology class on campus. The participants were asked to keep a daily diary of their alcohol consumption over a period of 30 days. From the diaries, the researchers were able to assess the participants’ drinking frequency and their drinking quantity. Frequency was assessed as a measure of total number of days that the student drank, divided by the 30 day period. Drinking quantity was measured by the total number of drinks, divided by the number of days that the student consumed any alcohol. The students were administered a survey that measured drinking norms, in which they reported their perceptions of how often college students of the same gender consumed alcohol. The students also took a five-item assessment called the Perceived Social Support from Friends Scale. The researchers used the two surveys to conduct a multiple regression analysis to measure the relationship between social support and alcohol norms as they pertained to drinking decisions. The results of the analysis showed that the perceptions of drinking norms were a significant predictor of drinking frequency, and those who held low norms were much more likely to drink less if they had low social support. Likewise, those who held high norms were more likely to drink more if they had low social support. The study authors note several limitations to the results of the analysis, including the use of self report for data collection. In addition, the questions that assessed drinking norms were broad and asked the students to report about norms for college students in general. The results of the study may be impacted by the use of a more targeted set of assessment questions that ask about a specific class level or a specific campus. In addition, the authors note that the results are indicative of a correlational relationship, not a causal one. The design of the study was not purposed to determine causality, and the correlation discovered may be explained by various factors not related to a causal relationship. The results of the study indicate, however, that drinking norms are significantly correlated with decisions about drinking, and particularly for those college students who have a low level of social support.

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