Misperceptions of the norms for the frequency of alcohol and other drug use on college campuses

J Am Coll Health. 1999 May;47(6):253-8. doi: 10.1080/07448489909595656.


Data from surveys of students representing 100 diverse college campuses were used to investigate the difference between the self-reported frequency of a drug's use and students' perceptions of the frequency of use. Students were asked about the frequency of their own use of 11 drugs (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, sedatives, hallucinogens, opiates, inhalants, designer drugs, and steroids) and how often they thought "the average student" on their campus used these drugs. Respondents typically misperceived their peer norms (designated as the median of self-reported use) by substantially overestimating how often the average student used each drug, both in campus samples where abstinence or infrequent use were the median of self-reports and in samples where the median of self-reports revealed more frequent use. To the extent that they may promote or reinforce students' actual use, these misperceptions should be considered in designing college drug prevention programs.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Peer Group
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prevalence
  • Social Values*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Universities*