Peer Networks Uniquely Influence Drinking Behaviors among College Students

Alcohol consumption is not uncommon among college students. In fact, when adolescents go to college, they often engage in several risky activities for the first time. Using alcohol or drugs or engaging in risky sexual behaviors are patterns of exploration that are often viewed as “normal” developmental stages from adolescence to adulthood. But drinking patterns among some college students can become problematic. Interventions to reduce college drinking have targeted many factors associated to drinking, especially peer support. However, how peer support in social networks affects drinking behaviors is still unclear. In an effort to further elucidate this unique relationships, Jerry Cullum of the University of Connecticut recently led a study assessing how perceived social support (PSS) and acceptance of drinking norms affected the drinking patterns of 498 college students over a period of 30 days.

Cullum wanted to evaluate drinking over a long period of time to determine how PSS fluctuated. He found that the students who had low levels of PSS aligned their drinking behaviors with social norms, while those who felt they were very supported by their peers did not. In other words, the students who did not feel completely accepted by their peer network tended to drink more closely according to what they believed the peer norms to be. This finding could suggest that these students tried to gain acceptance from their peers by drinking according to their own perception of peer norms. However, those who felt accepted by peers did not pattern their drinking on the drinking behaviors of others.

These results are somewhat in contrast to what would be expected. It would be assumed that someone who does not belong to a social group would not endorse their norms. But according to these results, it is exactly feeling of not being accepted that motivates one to behave in ways that will gain them social acceptance. While those who feel socially accepted appear to be insulated from the pressure to adhere to peer norms. Cullum believes these findings underscore the importance of social integration and acceptance, not only for behaviors like drinking, but also for psychological well-being. He said, “It may reduce depressive symptoms and reactivity to stress and it helps to promote our well-being by fulfilling our basic needs to bond with others for peer influence.”

Reference:
Cullum, Jerry, et al. (2013). Ignoring norms with a little help from my friends: Social support reduces normative influence on drinking behavior. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 32.1 (2013): 17-33. Print.

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  • grace

    grace

    April 2nd, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    I have been that person trying to gain acceptance by doing the things that my peer groups were doing even when I knew that they were not the right thing to do. It was the only way that I knew how at the time to be accepted or to be treated by them as a friend. I don’t condone it now for my own kids because I think that when you are subjected to doing this then you have to give up some things about yourself that are special and unique. But I also understand that need to belong, that feeling like no one likes you and that the only way to gain that acceptance is to go with the flow and do as they do. I see now that even though I tried really hard I never really fit in with that crowd but at that time that was what was important to me so I did it.

  • Fredrick

    Fredrick

    April 2nd, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    Blind following is never a good thing…and especially not when you’re drinking just to follow someone else and try to find happiness…!because happiness is never going to come from the outside,it only comes from the inside..

    The kids need to realize the fact that they are far higher than to have problems due to this mental ‘dependency’..I hope this particular study is able to show them just how important it is to not follow someone blindly and to think for yourself.

  • Charla R

    Charla R

    April 3rd, 2013 at 4:27 AM

    So important to build upong those networks of friends even when one is far away from home.
    Friends help to keep you sane and grounded when there is no one else to do that for you.
    It has to be hard for many new college students going off on their own for the first time and trying to make their way in this new world that they find themselves in. But there has to be some way to ensure that they are making and creating meaningful friendships and reationships that will keep them from making poor social choices.
    When these kids are just going off and drinking just to keep up with others, that is definitely not a set up for a promising situation. In most cases it can lead to a lot of trouble.

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