Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Alcohol Consumption and Looking for Alternatives to Drinking in College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Alcohol Consumption and Looking for Alternatives to Drinking in College Students

Article excerpt

Rotter (1978) has suggested that, within social learning theory, a generalized expectancy related to internal versus external control of reinforcement ("locus of control") is that of "looking for alternatives." Rotter suggests that psychotherapy clients may be taught to look for alternatives to their problematic behavior. Within this framework college students were surveyed to examine the relationship between alcohol consumption and expectancy of finding satisfying alternative behaviors to drinking. After assessing the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption, subjects were presented with a description of a situation in which a same sex friend asked them to go out for a "couple of drinks." They were then asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 100 how likely it was that there were satisfying alternatives to following the friend's suggestion. Results supported the hypothesis that heavier drinkers had a significantly lower expectancy that satisfactory alternatives to drinking were available. Results are discussed in terms of research and intervention with heavy-drinking college students.

One of the most exciting developments in the investigation of heavy drinking and alcohol abuse has been the evolution of the relapse prevention model of Marlatt and Gordon (1980, 1985). In this cognitivebehavioral model, an early component of relapse is the lack of coping skills on the part of the problem drinker in dealing with those situations that increase the risk of overindulging. Several intervention programs have been designed to increase the social skills (Chaney, O'Leary, & Marlatt, 1978) or assertiveness skills (Brown, 1986) of problem drinkers, despite the fact that the empirical evidence is equivocal with respect to the existence of social skills deficits in problem drinkers (Monti, Corriveau, & Zwick, 1981). Recently, however, Marlatt (Marlatt & Gordon, 1985) has broadened the traditional definition of a "coping response" to include any response that allows an individual to overcome a high-risk situation without relapsing. Looked at from this perspective, the specific behavior engaged in may be less important than the fact that the person engaged in some alternative that permits avoidance of the high-risk situation. Shiffman (1982) provides some support for this hypothesis in research with ex-smokers. Results indicate that ex-smokers who engaged in any coping response were more successful in forestalling relapse than those who did not engage in a coping routine.

Rotter (1978) has posited that the presenting concerns of clients may profitably be seen as essentially unsolved problems, a perspective very much in accord with the relapse prevention model. Operating from Rotter's social learning theory (1954), one of the key predictors of behavior is the expectancy an individual has that a particular behavior will lead to reinforcement or problem solution. Within this framework, Rotter (1978) proposes a generalized expectancy for looking for alternatives. This construct, related to internal versus external control of reinforcement ("locus of control"), may be defined as the belief on the part of an individual that alternatives to customary problem solving are available. For example, does a heavy drinker believe that there are alternative ways of obtaining satisfaction, other than drinking, when he sees his "drinking friends" (high-risk situation)? Though at first glance it may appear that this construct is analogous to Bandura's notion of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977), it is Bandura (1986) who provides the framework for understanding the distinction between the two constructs. An efficacy expectation is a self-referent judgment on personal ability to complete a task; an outcome expectancy (the present construct, for example) is a belief about the product of a behavior. The difference lies in the fact that the current construct of generalized expectancy for looking for alternatives does not address the question, "Do I have the ability to engage in these other behaviors? …

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