Normative misperceptions about alcohol use in the general population of drinkers: A cross-sectional survey

Claire Garnett*, David Crane, Robert West, Susan Michie, Jamie Brown, Adam Winstock

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    50 Citations (Scopus)


    Introduction: Underestimating one's own alcohol consumption relative to others ('normative misperception') has been documented in some college student and heavy-alcohol using samples, and may contribute to excessive drinking. This study aimed to assess how far this phenomenon extends to alcohol users more generally in four English-speaking countries and if associations with socio-demographic and drinking variables exist.

    Methods: A cross-sectional online global survey (Global Drugs Survey-2012) was completed by 9820 people aged 18 + from Australia, Canada, the UK and US who had consumed alcohol in the last year. The survey included the AUDIT questionnaire (which assessed alcohol consumption, harmful drinking and alcohol dependence), socio-demographic assessment and a question assessing beliefs about how one's drinking compares with others. Associations were analysed by linear regression models.

    Results: Underestimation of own alcohol use relative to others occurred in 46.9% (95% CI: 45.9%, 47.9%) of respondents. 25.4% of participants at risk of alcohol dependence and 36.6% of harmful alcohol users believed their drinking to be average or less. Underestimation was more likely among those who were: younger (16-24; p <0.003), male (p <0.001), from the UK (versus US; p <0.001), less well educated (p = 0.003), white (p = 0.035), and unemployed (versus employed; p <0.001).

    Conclusions: Underestimating one's own alcohol consumption relative to other drinkers is common in Australia, Canada, the UK and US, with a substantial minority of harmful drinkers believing their consumption to be at or below average. This normative misperception is greater in those who are younger, male, less well educated, unemployed, white, from the UK and high-risk drinkers.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)203-206
    Number of pages4
    JournalAddictive Behaviors
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


    • Normative misperception
    • Alcohol
    • AUDIT
    • DRUG-USE
    • SAMPLE


    Dive into the research topics of 'Normative misperceptions about alcohol use in the general population of drinkers: A cross-sectional survey'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this