Heavy alcohol use and its associated consequences are common during the college years, and are associated with deleterious short- and long-term outcomes for both the individuals and the college community. Though some college students make self-initiated changes to their drinking, little is known about how such adjustments occur or why and when students decide to make them. Such knowledge could inform intervention, by elucidating factors that might maximize the likelihood of behavior change. Data show that the experience of negative consequences from drinking is one important catalyst for change. Yet, there is significant individual variability in subjective responses to consequences and thus, variability in how such consequences may elicit behavioral change. Social Learning Theory (SLT) provides a guiding theory in this proposal with primary aims to investigate (1) whether subjective cognitive evaluations regarding the aversiveness, negativity, and severity of experienced alcohol consequences influence within-person changes in drinking behavior, and (2) whether individual-level variables (past experience with and normative perceptions of alcohol consequences) influence week-to-week alterations in drinking behavior by way of such cognitions. A secondary aim involves examining the association between empirically established severity of experienced consequences and within-person behavioral change. Following a baseline assessment of individual difference variables, participants (N=66 regularly drinking college students) will complete weekly web-based surveys to report on previous week alcohol use and experience of 24 alcohol-related consequences, as well as their cognitive evaluations of those consequences. Data will be collected for 10 weeks, to provide both within- and between-person variation. Using such methodology in combination with hierarchical linear modeling techniques will allow a fine-grained (week-to-week), prospective examination of the hypothesized effects as they unfold over time.

Public Health Relevance

Aims of the present study represent keys to providing insight into the processes by which students self- initiate change in alcohol use behaviors and to refining interventions for college drinking, particularly those that target how individuals think about their behavior and its consequences. Findings also have potential to inform efforts to prioritize for intervention those students most at risk for continued problematic drinking.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
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White, Aaron
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State University of New York at Buffalo
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Merrill, Jennifer E; Wardell, Jeffrey D; Read, Jennifer P (2015) Is Readiness to Change Drinking Related to Reductions in Alcohol Use and Consequences? A Week-to-Week Analysis. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 76:790-8
Merrill, Jennifer E; Read, Jennifer P; Colder, Craig R (2013) Normative perceptions and past-year consequences as predictors of subjective evaluations and weekly drinking behavior. Addict Behav 38:2625-34
Merrill, Jennifer E; Read, Jennifer P; Barnett, Nancy P (2013) The way one thinks affects the way one drinks: subjective evaluations of alcohol consequences predict subsequent change in drinking behavior. Psychol Addict Behav 27:42-51
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