OBJECTIVE: Drinking norms vary with the situation and the person’s role in it. They may be located at a societal level or may be specific to subgroups in the society. This article compares norms about drinking at the societal level as reported in surveys in 12 countries, testing the degree of consensus on the norms by comparing answers of abstainers and heavy episodic drinkers in each society. METHOD: In national or regional general population samples of respondents ages 18-65 in Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, India, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Uganda, Uruguay, and the United States, endorsements of drinking norms across 10 situations are compared, across the 12 societies, and within each society by drinking pattern. RESULTS: Substantial societal variation was found regarding the acceptance of drinking at all, and of heavier drinking in specific situations, although the societies shared a rough ordering of situations in terms of acceptability of drinking. In each society, abstainers and heavy episodic drinkers differed on norms, although the differences were smaller for “no drinking” in relatively “dry” situations than on accepting drinking at least “enough to feel the effects” in “wet” situations. CONCLUSIONS: Although societies vary in their acceptance of drinking and the drinking amount, there seems to be an approximately shared ordering of situations in terms of relative acceptability of drinking and heavier drinking. At the societal level, there is more consensus on where there should be no drinking than on where drinking enough to feel the effects is acceptable.
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