Cannabis use behaviors and social anxiety: the roles of perceived descriptive and injunctive social norms

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OBJECTIVE: Individuals with greater social anxiety are particularly vulnerable to cannabis-related impairment. Descriptive norms (beliefs about others' use) and injunctive norms (beliefs regarding others' approval of risky use) may be particularly relevant to cannabis-related behaviors among socially anxious persons if they use cannabis for fear of evaluation for deviating from what they believe to be normative behaviors. Yet, little research has examined the impact of these social norms on the relationships between social anxiety and cannabis use behaviors. METHOD: The current study investigated whether the relationships of social anxiety to cannabis use and use-related problems varied as a function of social norms. The sample comprised 230 (63.0% female) current cannabis-using undergraduates. RESULTS: Injunctive norms (regarding parents, not friends) moderated the relationship between social anxiety and cannabis-related problem severity. Post hoc probing indicated that among participants with higher (but not lower) social anxiety, those with greater norm endorsement reported the most severe impairment. Injunctive norms (parents) also moderated the relationship between social anxiety and cannabis use frequency such that those with higher social anxiety and lower norm endorsement used cannabis less frequently. Descriptive norms did not moderate the relationship between social anxiety and cannabis use frequency. CONCLUSIONS: Socially anxious cannabis users appear to be especially influenced by beliefs regarding parents' approval of risky cannabis use. Results underscore the importance of considering reference groups and the specific types of norms in understanding factors related to cannabis use behaviors among this vulnerable population.

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Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs

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