Individual-Focused Approaches to the Prevention of College Student Drinking

By Cronce, Jessica M.; Larimer, Mary E. | Alcohol Research, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Individual-Focused Approaches to the Prevention of College Student Drinking


Cronce, Jessica M., Larimer, Mary E., Alcohol Research


As detailed by Johnston and colleagues (2009), the majority of young adults, in particular college students, consume alcohol. Moreover, a substantial proportion of those who consume alcohol misuse it, engaging in heavy episodic drinking, (1) which directly and indirectly contributes to a host of harmful consequences (O'Malley and Johnston 2002; Perkins 2002). The rates of heavy drinking peak at ages 21 or 22 (Johnston et al. 2009), suggesting that most college students mature out of heavy drinking. Nevertheless, the harm they experience as a result of heavy drinking, such as poor academic and work performance or serious physical injury, may irrevocably alter students' natural developmental trajectories. In an effort to prevent or mitigate such long-term harm, myriad prevention programs have been developed to reduce college student drinking by targeting individual factors associated with alcohol use and misuse, including alcohol expectancies, drinking motives, perceived norms, and natural ambivalence regarding behavior (Baer 2002; Presley et al. 2002). A wealth of research has been devoted to evaluating the efficacy of these preventive interventions. The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive summary of the current state of the science with regard to individual-focused preventive interventions whose efficacy in reducing alcohol use and alcohol-related problems has been evaluated in the college student population using randomized controlled trials. Conclusions from earlier reviews in this area are described briefly, with greater focus given to summarizing evidence accumulated in the past 3 years (2007-2010).

INDIVIDUAL-FOCUSED PREVENTIVE INTERVENTIONS: SPECIFIC COMPONENTS AND EVIDENCE OF EFFICACY

Previous Reviews

Larimer and Cronce (2002, 2007) conducted qualitative reviews of research published between 1984 and early 2007 that evaluated the efficacy of individual preventive interventions aimed at college students. Both reviews noted a dearth of support for educational or awareness models, including information-based and values-clarification approaches, whereas there was evidence of efficacy for skills-based interventions, including self-monitoring/assessment, alcohol expectancy challenge (AEC), and multicomponent skills training. Moreover, both reviews documented strong empirical support for brief motivational interventions (BMIs) delivered via mail, online, or in person. As the name implies, in-person BMIs are brief (i.e., typically delivered over one or two sessions) and focus on enhancing motivation and commitment to change problematic behavior. To this end, BMIs often provide personalized feedback regarding the client's drinking and related consequences, alcohol expectancies, and drinking motives; when delivered alone in the absence of a trained facilitator, this personalized feedback component is referred to as a personalized feedback intervention (PFI). BMIs and PFIs often additionally include general alcohol information (i.e., alcohol education) and alcohol-specific coping and harm-reduction skills. PFIs typically include personalized normative feedback (PNF), which compares the client's self-reported drinking behavior to the average drinking behavior of a specific reference group (e.g., typical student, typical female). PNF encourages clients to explore and enhance discrepancies between their perception of their own drinking as "typical" and the actual drinking behaviors of their peers--that is, that the majority of students drink moderately, often significantly less than the individual receiving the intervention. Like PFIs, PNF can be delivered as a stand-alone intervention in the absence of in-person contact. Larimer and Cronce (2007) independently detailed empirical evidence supporting normative reeducation interventions, in particular computer-administered or in-person PNF interventions, that produced reductions in drinking and/or consequences mediated through changes in normative perceptions. …

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