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Curtin University
Collaboration for Evidence, Research and Impact in Public Health

Youth Alcohol Norms Project (2012 - 2014)

Chief Investigators

  • Professor Bruce Maycock (School of Public Health, Curtin University)
  • Professor Steve Allsop (National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), Curtin University)
  • Associate Professor Satvinder Dhaliwal (School of Public Health, Curtin University)
  • Professor Peter Howat (WACHPR and Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control, Curtin University)
  • Associate Professor Sharyn Burns (WACHPR, Curtin University)
  • Mr Jonathan Hallett (WACHPR, Curtin University)
  • Dr Jude Comfort (WACHPR, Curtin University)
  • Dr Roanna Lobo (WACHPR, Curtin University)

Project Manager/MPhil Candidate:

  • Ms Janina Hildebrand (WACHPR, Curtin University)

Collaborating Partners

  • National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), Curtin University
  • Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control, Curtin University

Project Aim and Objectives

The aim of this study is to investigate the development and transmission pathways of social norms related to alcohol consumption among adolescents aged 14 – 17 in Perth, Western Australia (WA).

The objectives of this study are to:

  1. Develop and evaluate the psychometric properties of a standardised instrument to measure the attitudes, beliefs and characteristics of social norms and social networks associated with alcohol consumption among adolescents;
  2. Identify common alcohol related norms held by adolescents 14-17 years;
  3. Clarify the process and pathways through which pro-alcohol norms are transmitted to adolescents 14-17 years; 
  4. Identify the exposure to and influence of social and environmental factors (e.g. marketing, exposure to alcohol, social connectedness) on adolescent norm development; and
  5. Describe the characteristics of social networks that contribute to the transmission of alcohol norms. 


Young people in Australia are increasingly consuming alcohol at an earlier age, with a large proportion drinking at levels that can result in severe injury or death. Beliefs, attitudes and behaviours associated with drinking are established in childhood and early adolescence. Social norms, the expectations about acceptable behaviour that is shared by a group of people, play a powerful role in influencing when, where, how often and at what level drinking is considered acceptable. Although the literature clearly indicates the role of peers, parents and the media in shaping the normative understandings associated with drinking, adolescents’ perceptions of alcohol use and approval of drinking within an Australian context have not been widely studied. The majority of studies exploring social norms have been conducted with US and European high school and college students, and there is a lack of evidence on how norms are transmitted within the community and between family members and friends. There is limited understanding of how alcohol related norms develop, which social influences contribute most to preventing or enhancing pro-alcohol norms, at what age alcohol related norms develop and manifest, and how conflicting norms held by various social networks are perceived and consolidated by a young person. Examining the mediating factors of drinking among adolescents is essential to understand the underlying mechanisms in this process to develop prevention and early intervention strategies.

Project Overview

The study will consist of two distinct phases:

Phase 1: Instrument development and validation 

Phase 1 (completed) consisted of the development and validation of a survey instrument to measure how alcohol related norms are acquired and their transmission pathways among adolescents. A rigorous process was undertaken to develop the instrument, which was guided by Social Cognitive Theory and included an extensive literature review, repeated reviews by a panel of experts (n = 8), focus group interviews with 14-17 year old adolescents (n = 34; n = 11 female, 32.3%), review by the study reference group (n = 8), cyclic one-on-one interviews conducted with youth aged 13-17 (n = 10), and use of the Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) formula to ensure target group adequate reading level of the survey. Additionally, a two-week test re-test format was used to pilot the standard structured questionnaire among students from six secondary schools in Perth, Western Australia (n = 481, age = 13.96 ±, male 172 (35.8%), female 309 (64.2%)). Data collected facilitated an investigation of the instrument’s psychometric properties, and confirmed its reliability and factorial validity to measure alcohol-related norms among adolescents within three dimensions: Individual beliefs and attitudes, Social norms and Social connectedness.

The developed Youth Alcohol Norms Survey instrument has a strong theoretical basis and is very comprehensive, in that it enables assessment of drinking attitudes, beliefs, intentions and behaviours, descriptive and injunctive norms, perceived social sanctions, social networks and identity, media influence, as well as connections with family, community, schools, and peers. Furthermore, the language and format of the instrument is appropriate to the target group, which is of relevance to Australian researchers due to the lack of suitable instruments for collecting data from youth in this field. Thus, it represents a useful tool for researchers seeking to gather normative, social and behavioural alcohol related data and to consequently develop effective intervention strategies.

Phase 2: Data collection and analysis

Phase 2 (in progress) included the use of a combination of respondent driven sampling (RDS) and web-based respondent driven sampling (webRDS) to recruit and administer the Youth Alcohol Norms Survey instrument among 14-17 year old adolescents in the community in Perth, Western Australia. Respondent driven sampling (RDS) is a methodology designed to capture representative samples of populations, particularly hard-to-reach groups, where purposively selected ‘seeds’ have the opportunity to refer peers to the study. Importantly, RDS measures the strengths of connections between individuals and allows the analyses of dyads, and personal networks. Stringent confidentiality and ethical safeguards were implemented to justify ethical approval waiving the requirement for adolescents to obtain parental consent prior to participation, thus supporting the feasibility of using RDS. Participants received modest incentives for personal completion of the survey, as well as for each additional peer who completed the survey who they had referred. Seeds were recruited by research staff, according to a planned distribution of age and gender, from sports clubs, youth programs and community locations representing a wide range of socio-economic levels within the Perth metropolitan area.

Based on participant feedback during data collection and inadequate rates of data collection, existing literature was drawn on to produce the methodological alterations representing webRDS, a fully online survey option that utilised social media platforms, primarily Facebook, among the target group. This resulted in a remarkable increase in the data collection rates, such that the majority of the final sample was derived from webRDS strategies (n= 780, n = 85 seeds). The total sample collected over a period of five months amounted to 1,012 adolescents (n = 144 seeds).

Data analysis is currently being undertaken, and will include descriptive statistics of demographic characteristics, social network analysis and dyadic analyses. These will be carried out in two directions, the first of which is individual-level indicators of alcohol use. RDS data analysis allows the estimation of population indicators that describe a broader population. Analysis of the social network will access male and female adolescents from the two different age groups (14 – 15 and 16 – 17 years) to determine if and when changes in attitudes, beliefs and social norms occur. Second, dyadic analyses will be conducted, whereby each dyad (participant and their referral) will provide information about both adolescents’ perceptions of behavioural norms.

Anticipated Outcomes

This study has produced a comprehensive standardised instrument available to public health researchers and practitioners to measure constructs such as individual alcohol related attitudes and beliefs, perceived collective expectations around drinking alcohol, as well as environmental and social influences. This in turn will guide the development of appropriate and evidence-based health practice and interventions that have the potential to reduce risk factors or enhance protective factors related to alcohol consumption. Results of this research are anticipated to increase our knowledge of the connections between shared understanding of norms and behaviours and how these translate into reported practices. Design of interventions to reduce risky drinking behaviours among youth can be informed by this improved understanding of alcohol related normative development pathways, ultimately leading to positive health outcomes among young people.

How to get involved

In order to extend the study to other communities and youth populations, we are currently seeking stakeholders interested to become involved in the research.  Please contact Janina Hildebrand to express interest.


Please contact the Project Manager, Janina Hildebrand, on 9266 4738 or, or the Chief Investigator Professor Bruce Maycock on 9266 7988 or, for more information about the study or how to get involved. 


  • Healthway

Publications and other dissemination

Information about Alcohol for Teens

An information poster about Alcohol, risks and effects. Click on the link below for more details.

Download FlyerInformation for teens


  • Hildebrand, J, Maycock, B, Howat, P, Burns, S, Allsop, S, Dhaliwal, S, Lobo, R. Investigation of alcohol-related social norms among youth aged 14–17 years in Perth, Western Australia: protocol for a respondent-driven sampling study. BMJ open. 2013; Volume 3, Issue 10. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003870. 
  • Hildebrand, J, Zhao, Y, Maycock, B, Burns, S, Allsop, S, Howat, P, Lobo, R. Design of an instrument to measure alcohol-related psychosocial influences in the development of norms among 13-year-old to 17-year-old adolescents. BMJ Open. 2013; Volume 3, Issue 8. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003571.

Conference presentations:

  • Hildebrand, J., Maycock, B., Dhaliwal, S., Allsop, S., Howat, P., Burns, S., Hallett, J., Comfort, J., Lobo, R. (2013) Youth Alcohol Norms Study. Alcohol and the Role of Local Government Seminar, Curtin University, Perth, 18 July 2013. 
  • Hildebrand, J., Maycock, B., Zhao, Y., Burns, S., Allsop, S., Lobo, R., Howat, P., Hallett, J., Comfort, J., Dhaliwal, S. (2013) Development of the Youth Alcohol Norms Survey Instrument. International Union for Health Promotion and Education Conference, Pattaya, Thailand, 25-29 August 2013.

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