Self in the Service: Self-Identification Moderates the Association between Perceived Drinking Norms and Own Drinking among Veterans

Mai-Ly N. Steers, School of Nursing, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Kathryn S. Macia, Palo Alto University, Palo Alto, California, USA.
Chelsie M. Young, Psychology, Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey, USA.
Clayton Neighbors, Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.
Eric R. Pedersen, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California, USA.


PURPOSE: Drinking is common among young adult veterans. Previous research has established that veterans' drinking is more strongly associated with veteran versus civilian drinking norms. The present research extends these findings by examining the influence of self-identification both with other veterans and with civilians as moderators of the association between perceived norms and drinking. METHODS: Veterans aged 18-34 ( = 1015; 88.7% male; = 28.23, = 3.44) were recruited via Facebook to participate. Measures included same-gender veterans/same-gender civilians self-identification, same-gender veterans/same gender-civilians perceived drinking norms, and own drinking. RESULTS: Pairwise comparisons revealed both male and female veterans identified more with other veterans than civilians and perceived drinking to be more prevalent among other veterans than civilians. However, males overestimated male veteran drinking norms to a greater degree than male civilian norms whereas the opposite was true for females. Negative binomial analysis examining a three-way interaction between veteran identification, civilian identification, and civilian norms revealed civilian drinking norms were positively associated with drinking, particularly for veterans who strongly identified with both veterans and civilians. Conversely, civilian drinking norms were also found to be negatively associated with drinking, particularly for those who did not identify strongly with civilians but identified strongly with veterans. IMPLICATIONS: This study represented a preliminary step for understanding how identity plays a role in terms of veterans' drinking. Given that veterans drank at differing levels of identification, it may be important to consider identities that are most salient when designing interventions targeting individual veterans.