Social Norms Approach Can Reduce Alcohol Drinking and Abuse

Students tend to overestimate the quantity and frequency of alcohol drinking by other students, a fact clearly and consistently established by extensive research. This misperception leads students to imagine social pressure for them to drink, to drink more, and to drink more often than they would otherwise prefer.

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The social norms approach (often called social norms marketing) corrects those misperceptions in an effort to eliminate those imagined social pressures to consume alcoholic beverages and to do so abusively.

Researchers analyzed data from 22 studies that included 7,275 college and university students. They found that students who received personalized feedback through the internet or through individual face-to-face meetings drank less often, consumed lower quantities of alcohol, and were less likely to engage in heavy episodic drinking (often called binge drinking) than were students in control groups. Web-based feedback also resulted in significant reductions in blood alcohol content (BAC) and alcohol-related problems.

Group counseling and mailed feedback were not found to be more effective than control interventions and the researchers reported that additional studies are required to understand those factors that make social norms marketing effective in reducing alcohol-related problems.


  • Moreira, M.T., et al. Social norms interventions to reduce alcohol misuse in university or college students. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, (3), Art. No.: CD006748. DOI: 10.1002/14651858. CD006748.pub2.

Readings on Alcohol and Social Norms Marketing Approach to Alcohol Abuse Problems:

  • AIMS Multimedia. The Truth about Teen Alcohol Use 101: A Social Norms Approach. DVD video. Williston, VT: Discovery Education, 2009.
  • Berkowitz, Alan D. The Social Norms Approach: Theory, Research and Annotated Bibliography. Trumansburg, NY, 2003.
  • DeJong, W., and Linkenbach, J. Telling it like it is: Using social norms marketing campaigns to reduce student drinking. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 1999, 52(4), 13-16.
  • Haines, Michael P. A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, Massachusetts: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996.
  • Linkenbach, J.W. Application of social norms marketing to a variety of health issues. Wellness Management, 1999, 15(3).
  • Perkins, H. Wesley. Social norms and the prevention of alcohol misuse in college contexts. Journal of Studies on Alcohol/Supplement No. 14, 2002.
  • Perkins, H.W. A successful Social Norms Campaign to Reduce Alcohol Misuse among College Student-Athletes. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies, 2006.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley and Craig, David. A Multifaceted Social Norms Approach to Reduce High-Risk Drinking. Newton, MA: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Education Development Center, Inc., 2002.
  • Valley, M.A. Injunctive and Descriptive Social Alcohol Norms and Drinking among College Students. Thesis. Colorado State University, 2006.

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