A comparison of global and egocentric network approaches for assessing peer alcohol use among college students in the United States.
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INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: Perceptions of peer alcohol use have a strong influence on college students' personal alcohol consumption. Common strategies for measuring students' perceptions of peer alcohol use rely on global student body questions (e.g. 'typical' student use), which overlook the true social contexts of college students. Simply put, persons most likely to influence an individual's behaviour are their closest, most proximal peers. Our objective was to compare whether social norms measures or network measures of peer alcohol use better assess participant alcohol use. Specifically, we compared: (i) perceptions of the 'typical' student's drinking behaviours; versus (ii) egocentric social network measures, in which respondent's report perceptions of the drinking behaviours of personally identified peers. DESIGN AND METHODS: Three hundred and nine college students reported demographics, personal alcohol use and global perceptions of peer alcohol use. Egocentric network composition was calculated using E-Net. Descriptive statistics and hierarchical linear regression analyses predicting personal drinking (AUDIT-C) were conducted in SPSS. RESULTS: Respondent's perceptions of peers' drinking behaviours accounted for 9.7% of the variance in personal alcohol use beyond demographics, global perceptions of peer alcohol use and network composition demographics [F(3,280) = 13.391, P<0.001]. Egocentric social network measures explained more variability in peer influence on personal alcohol consumption than global campus measures. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: Personally identified peers have a greater influence on personal alcohol consumption than perceptions of 'typical students'. Thus, future studies would benefit from utilising an egocentric network approach to examine the complex, interpersonal nature of alcohol use among college students.