(Mis)perceived Drinking Norms and Hazardous Drinking Behaviours in University First-Year Undergraduate Students and the Effects of Gender
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Purpose: Across Canada, undergraduate university students are one of the highest alcohol-consuming populations. Many students engage in hazardous drinking and are at risk for negative health and social consequences. Social Norms Theory suggests that students’ overestimation of drinking norms can result in an increase in their drinking behaviour. As of yet, none of the literature addresses the possible link between drinking norm (mis)perception and hazardous drinking in a Canadian undergraduate context. This is the first Canadian study to examine this potential association in first-year undergraduate students across multiple universities using gender as an effect modifier. Methods: Using data collected by the Caring Campus Project, for 2347 first-year students from three Canadian universities, I evaluated the prevalence of drinking norm misperceptions by site and gender. Using multiple-logistic regression models, I analyzed the relationship between misperceived drinking norms and hazardous drinking behaviours (assessed via AUDIT-C). Results: The proportion of students who overestimated drinking and binge drinking frequency norms varied by site and gender. There was a positive relationship between overestimated drinking/ binge drinking frequency norms and hazardous drinking, modified by gender. Controlling for living arrangement and site, the odds of female students being hazardous drinkers increased by a factor of 2.27 (CI: 1.73-2.99) when the drinking frequency norm was overestimated. A non-significant association was found for male students. Among female students, when living arrangement and site were controlled, the odds of being a hazardous drinker were 1.83 (0.84-3.95) and 2.69 (1.24-5.83) times greater when the drinking frequency norm was perceived at “2-4 times per month” and “2 or more times per week”, respectively. Among male students, when living arrangement, previous residence and site were controlled, the odds of being a hazardous drinker were 4.03 (2.62-6.19) and 8.54 (5.41-13.49) times greater when the binge drinking frequency norm was perceived at “2-4 times per month” and “2 or more times per week”, respectively. Conclusion: This novel study enhances the understanding of the association between (mis)perceived drinking norms and drinking behaviours in Canadian undergraduate students. The demonstrated importance of gender and site provides a strong impetus for Canadian universities to develop targeted alcohol reduction interventions.