Alcohol norms and drug harms (completed)

How dangerous are the various psychoactive substances? Traditionally, the Norwegian population has rated illegal substances such as cannabis as more dangerous than legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol. In this research project we will investigate whether there have been changes in such attitudes. We will also investigate norms regulating the use of alcohol in contexts such as the work place, the family and when children are present.

Illustration: and UiO

About the project

In this study we will investigate two research areas: (i) norms associated with the experience of alcohol intoxication, and (ii) perceived harms related to the use of the three most prevalent psychoactive substances in Norway and UK: tobacco, alcohol and cannabis


Alcohol norms

Social norms regulating drunken behavior have, since MacAndrew and Edgerton’s study Drunken Comportment (1969), been conceived by scientists as socially constructed “time-outs” from the norms of everyday life. Intra-cultural variation regarding these norms has not been properly theorized. In a recent analysis of qualitative data, Fjær and Pedersen (submitted manuscript) argue that such variation can be conceptualized as differences in value ordering on the level of practices, and that varying norms regulating drunken behavior are a consequence of this. To test this theory using quantitative methods, we will look for associations between respondents’ value profiles and their judgments regarding how appropriate it would be to appear intoxicated in different hypothetical situations.

Drug harms

The use of all the three psychoactive substances which will be investigated in the study will be associated with various possible harms. Traditionally, the Norwegian public has rated the harms associated with illegal substances (e.g. opiates, amphetamines, cannabis) as much more severe than those associated with legal substances (tobacco, alcohol) and prescription drugs (e.g. benzodiazepines) (Skretting, 1993). There has been an increasing worldwide debate with regard to drug policy during the last decade, not least with regard to cannabis and cannabis legalization, and one could hypothesize that perceptions of drug harms may have changed over the period since the last Norwegian data collection (in 2007, but with unpublished results). On this basis, we consider a new study with a broader approach to be relevant


Students at the University of Oslo, a regional Norwegian university, and Manchester Metropolitan University will be approached as participants in the project. We hope to obtain about 800 responses.Norway and UK have some similarities and also some differences with regard to substance use: Both countries have binge drinking practices among young adults (Pedersen & von Soest, 2013), but UK has in addition a more traditional “continental” pattern of consumption, and UK has had a much more liberal alcohol policy than Norway in the course of the last couple of decades. Parts of UK  has also had a higher level of illegal substance use (Measham & Shiner, 2009). Thus a comparison between the two countries would be feasible. Within Norway, one may also hypothesize that there may be differences, between e.g. the Oslo region and students at regional colleges. We have therefor included students from another university in the study. In all university cities we have concentrated on students in social sciences, broadly defined.


Results will be published in international, peer-reviewed journals. Presentation at conferences and in national journals will as well be considered.


The project is a cooperation between researchers at The Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Norway and the Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.

Published Sep. 26, 2014 8:39 AM - Last modified Apr. 25, 2016 12:29 PM