The Social Norms Approach shows how people can be more impressionable than they know.
The actions of their peers influence their own behaviour. But when it comes to substance use, this behaviour is often influenced by misperceptions about their peers’ behaviour.
Our research showed a tendency among our respondents to normalise unhealthy behaviour, because one assumes others engage in this behaviour frequently. We overestimate the amount of their unhealthy behaviour, while underestimating the frequency of their healthy behaviour. The Social Norms Approach focusses on showing the reality behind substance use. We want to show people not what they believe to be true about others, but the actual figures on substance use.  


We have created an informative animation for educative purposes.
In this video we have summarised the most important ideas behind the Social Norms Approach and we present you with some facts and figures from our own research. Feel free to use this video to your advantage.
You may, for example, use this video to explain the SNA principle in classes or in a consultation with a patient.

how to implement sna

The Social Norms Approach is a renowned and proven methodology in changing human behaviour. If implemented correctly, the facts and figures communicated within your clinic might change your patients’ stance on (mis)perceived social norms.
By placing posters and flyers within your waiting room or doctor’s office, your patient will be confronted with their own misperceptions. We aim never to judge them for their use, but we only make them reflect on their own use. Even without your intervention on the matter, with our poster, this process can start happening in your waiting room.
You may request the promotional package through the form at the bottom at this page.
But, what to do when a patient asks you about these figures? What if you notice signs of addiction among a patient that you wish to address? We have gathered some tips on how to engage in conversations with patients whose use worries you.


You wish to discuss your patient’s alcohol- or medicine (ab)use and you think the Social Norms Approach might help you communicate your worries to them. How do you handle this?
We have gathered some tips!
Communicate your worries in a non-accusatory tone. Make sure your patient sees your worries coming from a place of care. You can do this by saying “I worry about you, could it be that…”.
Expressing these worries will already have a preventive effect!

However, more often, topics like these might not be resolved in a single conversation. Please be aware that your worries might not be shared by your patient. They might feel the problem is non-existent or less serious than you feel. Don’t let this difference in perception be a conversation killer, but make it a topic of the conversation. Name this difference and try to make your patient realise the problem might be bigger than they think. You know you have created a motivation for change when your client starts reflecting on their own use.
Of course, as a healthcare professional, you would want to emphasize the long-term health risks involved in substance use. This may be an impactful incentive for some users, but it can also be very difficult to measure your own health. We recommend defining very clear and direct short-term effects of their use. So, be concrete and keep it measurable!
You could, for example, talk about the money they spend on their use. You can make them realise they might have missed (social) opportunities due to a hangover or you can ask them to reflect on their job performances. These personal effects can act as very tangible incentives that they themselves can see improve or worsen over time.
Don’t start accusing someone of being addicted or start forbidding certain behaviour. As a healthcare professional, you often have little knowledge of someone’s day-to-day, so you have little to back up your claims. This accusatory tone might also turn the conversation into a confrontation that might hurt more than the conversation alone.
Stick with what you do see and know.

Maybe your patient looks tired, lost a lot of weight, lost its appetite or suffers from diseases that signal excessive use of certain substances. Ask them if they think your observations are sound and ask them how they think it happened. As their caregiver, they might share more with you than their peers. Keep checking with your patient to see if they still agree with what you are observing.
Also explain that you are not there to punish them, but to help them out.
When the conversation gets going, your patient might also show interest in your own use.
Try being honest about your use! It can help if you share your experiences. Also share how you make sure you keep your use responsible.
Not sharing anything about yourself might hurt trust. If you wish to steer away from getting too personal, you might use our facts and figures to show the different groups of users. You might add by saying to what group you think you belong. You might follow this up by asking to which group of users your patient thinks it belongs.
Use the facts if you are using our flyers or posters as a way to communicate with your patients one on one. In our campaign, we try to steer away from being judgemental or prejudiced. We support the decision to drink less, but never judge someone for not making this decision (yet).
Try communicating in a similar matter. Support the choices someone makes, but make sure to clarify that certain assumptions the user makes might be skewed. You can back this up with our research. Ask them questions like: “What percentage of the people your age do YOU think drink just as often as you do?”.

Get some expert-guidance

However well the conversation goes, a sensitive issue like this might not be resolved after a good talk or discussion. In some cases, it can be beneficial to get the opinion of a trained addiction prevention professional. You might also deem it necessary to refer one of your patients to an addiction professional.
Below you’ll find relevant and affiliated healthcare organisations in your region. Do not hesitate to call on them for some expert guidance, referral options or action plans.


Facts and figures form the foundation of this campaign. They speak to the imagination and are helpful tools in strengthening a message and making it stick. One glance at a poster with a quote about drinking can make an impact, but when we communicate the corresponding figures, it’s those numbers that keep ringing in your head.
We aim to be a wake-up call and a friendly reminder for all those that might base their decisions on (mis)perceived social norms.
Want to use the SNA to create awareness among your patients?
Our posters and flyers will help you do just that. Use them as freely available information in your waiting room or during consultations to ignite a conversation. Download the materials through the button below or order the high-quality prints free of charge by filling in the form.


(Promotional package)




This campaign revolves around statistics taken from our Euroregional Health Survey.

This online survey was conducted from September 2019 to January 2020 and was presented to citizens, aged 55+ years old, living in The Netherlands (Zuid Limburg), Belgium (Provincie Limburg, Ostbelgien and Liège) and Germany (Aachen, Euskirchen, Heinsburg and Bitburg-Prüm). To ensure safety in answering questions regarding substance use, respondents remained anonymous throughout the survey.

We asked these respondents to give us an indication of their substance use and also asked how they felt other people their age would score on these same questions. Interestingly, the SNA appeared to be applicable in nearly all proposed situations. We clearly saw how respondents had a tendency to downplay healthy behavior among their peers while overestimating their unhealthy behavior. Curious to all facts and figures? You may download the report below.



Choose your region..