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Keywords:

  • alcohol intervention;
  • normative feedback;
  • university student;
  • social networking site;
  • Facebook

Abstract

Introduction and Aims

University students usually overestimate peer alcohol use, resulting in them ‘drinking up’ to perceived norms. Social norms theory suggests correcting these inflated perceptions can reduce alcohol consumption. Recent findings by the current authors show portraying oneself as ‘a drinker’ is considered by many students to be a socially desirable component of their Facebook identity, perpetuating an online culture that normalises binge drinking. However, social networking sites have yet to be utilised in social norms interventions.

Design and Methods

Actual and perceived descriptive and injunctive drinking norms were collected from 244 university students. Ninety-five students screened positive for hazardous drinking and were randomly allocated to a control group or intervention group that received social norms feedback via personalised Facebook private messages over three sessions.

Results

At 1 month post-intervention, the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumed by intervention group during the previous month had significantly reduced compared with baseline and controls. Reductions were maintained 3 months post-intervention. Intervention group perceived drinking norms were significantly more accurate post-intervention.

Discussion and Conclusions

This is the first study to test the feasibility of using Facebook to deliver social norms interventions. Correcting misperceptions of peer drinking norms resulted in clinically significant reductions in alcohol use. Facebook has many advantages over traditional social norms delivery, providing an innovative method for tackling problem drinking at university. These results have implications for the use of Facebook to deliver positive messages about safe alcohol use to students, which may counter the negative messages regarding alcohol normally seen on Facebook. [Ridout B, Campbell A. Using Facebook to deliver a social norm intervention to reduce problem drinking at university. Drug Alcohol Rev 2014;33:667–73]