British Journal of Health Psychology

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Positive excessive drinker prototypes predict greater drinking and alcohol problems


According to the prototype willingness model, risky behaviours such as heavy drinking may be influenced by images of others who engage in this behaviour. In this study, we examined whether college students’ prototypes of an individual who frequently drinks “over the limit” were associated with their own alcohol consumption and experience of alcohol‐related problems during their first 2 years in college.


We assessed students’ (N = 340) prototypes of excessive drinkers and their own alcohol consumption and problems at four time points, across their first 2 years in college. Along with examining the trajectory of prototypes, consumption, and problems, we tested whether prototypes significantly predicted consumption and problems across the 2 years. Additional analyses examined whether the predictive value of prototypes was unique from related variables including perceived descriptive norms, perceived injunctive norms, and peer pressure to drink alcohol.


Primary analyses indicated that more positive prototypes of an excessive drinker were significantly associated with greater alcohol consumption in both year 1 and year 2. More positive prototypes were also significantly associated with experiencing more alcohol‐related problems in year 2. These findings held when controlling for perceived descriptive and injunctive norms, and peer pressure.


Findings further support the importance of drinker prototypes to one's own drinking behaviour. By examining prototypes over time and their relationship to alcohol‐related problems, this study makes a novel contribution to the existing research.

What is already known on this subject?

  • Perceived norms (beliefs about how much others drink and what they approve of) are associated with own drinking.
  • Individuals construct “risk prototypes,” or images of people who engage in risky behaviours like drinking alcohol.
  • Positive risk prototypes of drinkers have been associated with own willingness to drink and subsequent drinking.

What does this study add?

  • This study shows the trajectory of drinker prototypes across the first 2 years of college.
  • Findings highlight consistent patterns of positive associations between drinker prototypes and own drinking.
  • More positive drinker prototypes are associated with a greater number of problems with alcohol.

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