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.
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