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A feasibility trial to examine the social norms approach for the prevention and reduction of licit and illicit drug use in European University and college students

Claudia R Pischke1*, Hajo Zeeb1, Guido van Hal2, Bart Vriesacker2, John McAlaney3, Bridgette M Bewick4, Yildiz Akvardar5, Francisco Guillén-Grima6, Olga Orosova7, Ferdinand Salonna7, Ondrej Kalina7, Christiane Stock8, Stefanie M Helmer1 and Rafael T Mikolajczyk1109

Author Affiliations

1 BIPS - Institute for Epidemiology and Prevention Research, Achterstraße 30, 28359, Bremen, Germany

2 Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

3 Division of Psychology, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK

4 Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

5 School of Medicine, Marmara University, Istanbul, Turkey

6 Department of Health Sciences, Public University of Navarra, Navarra, Spain

7 Department of Educational Psychology and Health Psychology, PJ Safaric University, Kosice, Slovakia

8 Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Esbjerg, Denmark

9 Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Braunschweig, Germany

10 Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:882  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-882

Published: 18 October 2012



Incorrect perceptions of high rates of peer alcohol and tobacco use are predictive of increased personal use in student populations. Correcting misperceptions by providing feedback has been shown to be an effective intervention for reducing licit drug use. It is currently unknown if social norms interventions are effective in preventing and reducing illicit drug use in European students. The purpose of this paper is to describe the design of a multi-site cluster controlled trial of a web-based social norms intervention aimed at reducing licit and preventing illicit drug use in European university students.


An online questionnaire to assess rates of drug use will be developed and translated based on existing social norms surveys. Students from sixteen universities in seven participating European countries will be invited to complete the questionnaire. Both intervention and control sites will be chosen by convenience. In each country, the intervention site will be the university that the local principal investigator is affiliated with. We aim to recruit 1000 students per site (baseline assessment). All participants will complete the online questionnaire at baseline. Baseline data will be used to develop social norms messages that will be included in a web-based intervention. The intervention group will receive individualized social norms feedback. The website will remain online during the following 5 months. After five months, a second survey will be conducted and effects of the intervention on social norms and drug use will be measured in comparison to the control site.


This project is the first cross-national European collaboration to investigate the feasibility of a social norms intervention to reduce licit and prevent illicit drug use among European university students.

Final trial registration number

DRKS00004375 on the ‘German Clinical Trials Register’.

Social norms; Prevention; Drug use; Intervention; University/College students; Europe