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New study identifies predictors of short-term drinking behavior changes following alcohol intervention for mandated college students

Brief motivational interventions (BMIs) have been shown to reduce problematic drinking for some, but not all, college students. A new study attempted to identify students who may be less responsive to these interventions and identify predictors of reduced alcohol use and problems one month after the BMI. Participants were students at a U.S. university who were mandated to complete an alcohol education program following an alcohol-related violation. This study, which included a BMI and one-month follow-up, was offered to mandated students as an alternative to a BASICS-like program. 568 students consented to the study and completed the baseline assessment. The BMI utilized motivational interviewing and provided students with a personalized feedback sheet that included weekly consumption, social norms data, estimated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels, alcohol-related consequences and risk, as well as goal setting and tips for safer drinking. Participants reported their demographic characteristics, typical number of drinks consumed per week, typical number of drinks consumed per day in the past month (used to estimate BAC levels), alcohol-related consequences, descriptive drinking norms and perceived injunctive drinking norms, impulsivity, behavioral inhibition and activation, decisional balance, distress, and perceived centrality of alcohol to college life. 98.6% (n = 560) of participants returned for the one-month follow-up; multiple imputations were used to replace missing data. The authors used t-tests to examine differences between baseline and follow-up and latent change scores (LCS) to examine changes in alcohol consumption and alcohol use consequences. LCS models for consumption and consequences were created separately. Results indicated participants were mostly male (72%) and White (84%). Male sex, White race, fraternity/sorority membership, descriptive norms, costs of change, and beliefs about the centrality of drinking to college life predicted baseline consumption. Change in consumption between baseline and follow-up was predicted by male sex (p = 0.001), higher fun-seeking (p < 0.01), and greater costs associated with reducing alcohol use (p = 0.01). Participants who reported more consequences at baseline decreased their consequences more over the one-month follow-up than participants with fewer consequences at baseline (p < 0.001). Controlling for this effect, participants who reported more benefits to changing their drinking had larger reductions in consequences (p < 0.05), while those with stronger centrality beliefs reported smaller decreases in consequences over the follow-up period (p = 0.05). The authors included suggestions for tailoring BMIs to improve them for specific groups of students. Limitations of this study are the lack of a comparison group and lack of diversity among the sample.

Take away: Participation in a brief motivational intervention reduced reported alcohol-related consequences and problems at one month among the sample. Predictors of these outcomes included demographic characteristics, beliefs about the centrality of alcohol in college life, and perceived costs of changing drinking behavior.

Citation: Carey KB, Merrill JE, Walsh JL, et al. (2017). Predictors of short-term change after a brief alcohol intervention for mandated college drinkers [published online ahead of print September 28 2017], Addictive Behaviors doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.09.019

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