Our Students in Action

Thipnapa Huansuriya

Alchohol Norms and Health-Risk Behavior Among Thai Youth

In her youth, Applied Social Psychology Ph.D. student Thipnapa ("Thip") Huansuriya had first-hand experience with the youth drinking culture of her native Thailand. She is now working to prevent others from risking their own health. "According to a survey on health risk behaviors among Thai adolescents in 2008, students who drank were more likely to be involved in a fight, have involuntary or unprotected sex, use illegal drugs, have motor accidents, and fail at school," she says.

These health risk behaviors have inspired Thip to work on a project called "Relationships among Alcohol Expectancies, Perceived Alcohol Norms, and Drinking Intentions and Behaviors in Thai Youths." She aims to examine the relative importance of perceived alcohol norms and alcohol outcome expectancies in predicting the drinking intentions and behaviors of both Thai youths who usually assume a leadership role in coordinating drinking situations and those who are pressured by others to drink. A measure for distinguishing between these two types of drinkers--the leaders and the followers--will be developed.

"My participants will be 1,000 Thai youths aged 15-21. They will respond to my new alcohol opinion leadership scale; indicate their perceived alcohol norms; drinking behaviors and/or intentions; alcohol outcome expectancies; and general information such as age, gender, and education level.

"I hypothesize that alcohol expectancies will have more weight than perceived alcohol norms in predicting the drinking intentions and behaviors of Thai youths who are the leaders in drinking situations. The opposite is expected for those who usually are followers.

"If my hypotheses are supported, there will be three important implications for intervention programs aimed at preventing and reducing alcohol use in youths. Firstly, if expectancies and norms contribute uniquely to the prediction of drinking intentions and behaviors, then, attempts to prevent or reduce alcohol use may be more successful if they incorporate an intervention that challenges the expectancy beliefs and corrects misperceptions of alcohol norms at the same time.

"Secondly, if expectancies and norms have different weights in predicting opinion leaders’ and followers’ drinking intentions and behaviors, then the interventions for each group should be customized to fit the specific pattern of these relationships in each group. For the opinion leaders, the interventions should focus more on changing alcohol expectancy beliefs. For the followers, changing the misperceptions of alcohol norms or training of refusing skill might be more effective in reducing their drinking behaviors.

"And finally, since opinion leaders have an influence on others who otherwise would not drink, priority should be given to interventions that aim to change the opinion leaders’ beliefs and behaviors. If there are fewer opinion leaders or if the opinion leaders drink less, the normative pressure experienced by the followers would be lifted. This, in turn, should automatically reduce drinking behaviors of the followers.

"Currently working as a teacher, I'd rather see students achieving their life or career goals than wasting their money and time with alcohol consumption and risky behavior. So I hope that the results of this study will provide a basis for the development of future interventions to prevent or deter drinking in Thai youths."