The New Normal: Changes in Drinking Norms From College to Postcollege Life

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Despite the wealth of research on the effects of drinking norms on college students’ alcohol consumption, researchers have not yet examined changes in drinking norms and their association with drinking level after students leave the college environment. The current study filled this gap by following students into postcollege life, measuring drinking norms and daily drinking behavior. College students (N = 1,848) were recruited to take part in a daily diary study measuring social and solitary alcohol consumption, and 1,142 moderate to heavy drinkers from the college cohort were invited to complete a second wave of daily diaries 5 years later, with 906 providing at least 15 days of diary data in each wave. Results of multilevel modeling analyses suggest that family injunctive drinking norms become more strongly related to alcohol consumption after individuals leave college. In contrast, institutional injunctive norms may have a greater limiting effect among college students (i.e., the association was greater among college students) and the relations between friend injunctive and descriptive norms to drinking behavior did not change between waves in the current study. This suggests that friend drinking continues to be related to own drinking behavior among adults after leaving the college environment, and highlights the changing importance of institutional norms and family approval. These results may have implications for intervening in young adults’ heavy drinking.

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