Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 43, Issue 9, pp 1486–1497 | Cite as

Social Norms in the Development of Adolescent Substance Use: A Longitudinal Analysis of the International Youth Development Study

  • Marla E. Eisenberg
  • John W. Toumbourou
  • Richard F. Catalano
  • Sheryl A. Hemphill
Empirical Research


Identifying specific aspects of peer social norms that influence adolescent substance use may assist international prevention efforts. This study examines two aggregated measures of social norms in the school setting and their predictive association with substance (alcohol, tobacco and marijuana) use 2 years later in a large cross-national population-based cohort of adolescents. The primary hypothesis is that in Grade 7 both “injunctive” school norms (where students associate substance use with “coolness”) and “descriptive” norms (where student substance use is common) will predict Grade 9 substance use. Data come from the International Youth Development Study, including 2,248 students (51.2 % female) in the US and Australia attending 121 schools in Grade 7. Independent variables included injunctive norms (aggregating measures of school-wide coolness ratings of each substance use) and descriptive norms (aggregating the prevalence of school substance use) in Grade 7. Dependent variables included binge drinking and current use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana in Grade 9. Associations between each type of school-wide social norm and substance use behaviors in Grade 9 were tested using multilevel logistic regression, adjusting for covariates. In unadjusted models, both injunctive and descriptive norms each significantly predicted subsequent substance use. In fully adjusted models, injunctive norms were no longer significantly associated with Grade 9 use, but descriptive norms remained significantly associated with tobacco and marijuana use in the expected direction. The findings identify descriptive social norms in the school context as a particularly important area to address in adolescent substance use prevention efforts.


Substance use Smoking Alcohol Marijuana Social norms School 



Funding for this research came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01-DA012140-05) and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (R01AA017188-01). In Australia, financial support was provided by the Australian Health Management Research Fund and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. The sponsors had no involvement in study design; collection, analysis and interpretation of data; writing of articles or decisions regarding submission.


The content of this paper is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Author contributions

M.E. conceived of this secondary data analysis, conducted analysis and drafted the manuscript. J.T. and R.C. conceived of and designed the International Youth Development Study, provided advice on statistical analysis and interpretation and contributed to the development of this manuscript. S.H. contributed to the design of the original study and to critical redrafting of this manuscript. All authors have reviewed and given approval of the submitted manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marla E. Eisenberg
    • 1
  • John W. Toumbourou
    • 2
    • 3
  • Richard F. Catalano
    • 4
  • Sheryl A. Hemphill
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, Department of PediatricsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Research, School of PsychologyDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia
  3. 3.Murdoch Childrens Research InstituteParkvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Social Development Research Group, School of Social WorkUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  5. 5.School of PsychologyAustralian Catholic UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  6. 6.Department of PaediatricsThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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