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Brief online interventions linked to less alcohol use and alcohol related consequences among American college students studying abroad

Previous research has documented increased and problematic alcohol use during study abroad experiences for college students. A new randomized controlled trial was designed to prevent increased and problematic alcohol use abroad by correcting misperceptions of peer drinking norms abroad and by promoting positive and healthy adjustment into the host culture (i.e., sojourner adjustment) through brief online personalized feedback interventions. Participants (N = 343) were recruited through the study abroad office at one large university in the northwest United States. Participants completed a pre-departure survey and the following information was obtained. First, participants provided information about alcohol use and consequences over the past month by completing the Daily Drinking Questionnaire (DDQ). Second, participants shared perceptions of peer and host national drinking behavior within the study abroad environment by completing a Drinking Norms Rating Form (DNRF). Third, aspects of the cultural adjustment process among students temporarily living abroad were assessed through the Sojourner Adjustment Measure (SAM). Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 intervention conditions including a personalized normative feedback intervention (PNF), a sojourner adjustment feedback intervention (SAF), a combined PNF SAF intervention, and an assessment-only control condition. If randomized to one of the three intervention conditions, participants immediately received feedback based on their responses. Their personalized feedback was also resent during the first week of their trip via email. The same participants also completed follow-up surveys with similar content during their first and last months abroad. The authors conducted primary analyses using generalized estimating equations (GEEs). The results showed that among the three covariates of age, gender and location, only location of study abroad was predictive of drinking. Studying in a European country was associated with more drinking over time as those who studied abroad in Europe, drank 1.49 times more than those who studied elsewhere. Furthermore, PNF participants drank 30% fewer drinks per week than control participants during the follow-up period. PNF participants who reported drinking eight or fewer drinks per week at baseline reported fewer drinks per week abroad compared with control. Although heavier drinkers in the PNF condition drank at approximately the same level abroad as control, heavier baseline drinkers receiving SAF in addition to PNF drank more than control. There was no observed SAF baseline drinking interaction; however, those in the SAF condition drank the most abroad regardless of their baseline drinking. As for alcohol-related consequences, those who studied in Europe experienced 1.47 times more consequences than those who studied elsewhere. There were no significant main effects of any intervention condition on preventing consequences compared with control. However, PNF participants with fewer baseline consequences reported fewer consequences abroad compared with control. Also, combined PNF + SAF condition participants with varying levels of pre-departure consequences reported comparatively less consequences abroad than their control counterparts.

Take away: Combined SAF + PNF intervention appears beneficial for study abroad students reporting more alcohol-related consequences at pre-departure, while PNF intervention alone may be sufficient to reduce the level of drinking abroad for lighter pre-departure drinkers.

Pedersen, E. R., Neighbors, C., Atkins, D. C., Lee, C. M., & Larimer, M. E. (2017). Brief online interventions targeting risk and protective factors for increased and problematic alcohol use among American college students studying abroad. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors31(2), 220.

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