Alcohol Education Guide
to Reducing Harmful Drinking

Using Social Norms to Reduce Alcohol and Tobacco in Two Midwestern High Schools



Implementer: Illinois High Schools

Partners: Funding from the US Department of Human Services; evaluation conducted by the Center for Research and Prevention Development (CRDP) in Champaign, Illinois

Program Overview: This social norms campaign aimed to reduce normative misperceptions of alcohol consumption and tobacco use among high school students, their parents, and teachers; in an effort to reduce alcohol consumption and tobacco use among students.

Program Design: Campaign content was developed following surveys of parents, students, and teachers. The surveys were sued to establish normative behaviors among students and to gauge misperceptions of normative behaviors. These data were used to develop media for each group:

  • Parents were targeted with ads in community newspapers, and mailings from the school
  • Teachers were given information during meetings, training, school mailings, posters placed in the schools, and the ads in the community paper
  • Students were exposed to campaign messages through posters in the schools, mailings sent to their homes, and radio advertisements

Evaluation: 10th grade students, their parents, and teachers were included in the evaluation of the campaign. Parents and teachers were surveyed about their perceptions of normative alcohol consumption and tobacco use for high school students. Students participating in the evaluation (n = 319) were asked about their normative perceptions, as well as their actual alcohol consumption and tobacco use. Surveys were conducted at baseline and again 2 years later.

Key findings1Survey results showed corrections in misperception of normative alcohol consumption (corrections in misperceptions of tobacco use did not reach significance). Statistically significant changes were also seen for reported alcohol consumption and tobacco use.

  • Over the two years of the campaign there were significant reductions in the number of students who reportedly consumed alcohol in the past month
  • There was a significant reduction in the number of students who consumed more than five drinks on an occasion in the previous two weeks
  • The percentage of student who reported having been drunk in the previous month decreased significantly
  • Significantly fewer students reported past 30 day tobacco use after two years of campaign exposure


1. Haines, M. P., Barker, G. P., & Rice, R. (2003). Using social norms to reduce alcohol and tobacco use in two Midwestern high schools. The social norms approach to preventing school and college age substance abuse: A handbook for educators, counselors, and clinicians, 235-244.

Target Audience: High school (15-18 years old), Parents, Teachers
Issues: Underage Drinking
Setting: Schools
Approach: Social Norms
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