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Permissive Norms and Young Adults' Alcohol and Marijuana Use: The Role of Online Communities

Sarah A. Stoddard, José A. Bauermeister, Deborah Gordon-Messer, Michelle Johns, Marc A. Zimmerman

Objective: Young adults are increasingly interacting with their peer groups online through social networking sites. These online interactions may reinforce or escalate alcohol and other drug (AOD) use as a result of more frequent and continuous exposure to AOD promotive norms; however, the influence of young adults' virtual networks on AOD use remains untested. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between the presence of AOD use content in online social networking, perceived norms (online norms regarding AOD use and anticipated regret with AOD use postings), and alcohol and marijuana use in a sample of 18- to 24-year-olds. Method: Using an adapted web version of respondent-driven sampling (webRDS), we recruited a sample of 18- to 24-year-olds (N = 3,448) in the United States. Using multivariate regression, we explored the relationship between past-30-day alcohol and marijuana use, online norms regarding AOD use, peer substance use, and online and offline peer support. Results: Alcohol use was associated with more alcohol content online. Anticipated regret and online peer support were associated with less alcohol use. Anticipated regret was negatively associated with marijuana use. Peer AOD use was positively associated with both alcohol and marijuana use. Conclusions: Peers play an important role in young adult alcohol and marijuana use, whether online or in person. Our findings highlight the importance of promoting online network-based AOD prevention programs for young adults in the United States. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 73, 968–975, 2012)