Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 205-224

First online:

Perceived personal immunity to the consequences of drinking alcohol: The relationship between behavior and perception

  • William B. HansenAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health Sciences, Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University
  • , Anne E. RaynorAffiliated withDiabetes Education Center of Arizona, Inc.
  • , Bonnie H. WolkensteinAffiliated withUniversity of Southern California

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Heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers, light drinkers, and nondrinkers were asked to rate a variety of negative health and social consequences of using alcohol. Subjects made probability ratings for fictional others who were heavy, moderate, or light drinkers or nondrinkers. Subjects also made probability ratings for themselves as hypothetical heavy, moderate, or light drinkers or nondrinkers and for themselves actually. A pattern of perceived personal immunity was found across groups. Subjects rated fictional others and themselves as hypothetical drinkers to be more likely to experience negative consequences than their actual selves. All groups of subjects (heavy, moderate, and light drinkers and abstainers) rated their actual chances of experiencing negative consequences to be approximately equal. In contrast, heavy drinkers saw the effects of drinking for other heavy drinkers as less likely than did subjects who had light or abstinent drinking patterns who rated fictional heavy drinkers. These findings suggest that individuals who drink more tend to deny the potential harm that may result from alcohol consumption. Short-term social consequences were viewed as most likely to occur. Long-term consequences were perceived as least likely to occur.

Key words

denial alcohol consumption beliefs perceptions negative consequences personal immunity