Self-Regulation as a Mediator of the Effects of a Brief Behavioral Economic Intervention on Alcohol-Related Outcomes: A Preliminary Analysis


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Abstract

Behavioral economic theory suggests that increased engagement in constructive, substance-free activities that are in the service of long-term goals (e.g., college graduation, career development, health) can decrease alcohol use and related problems. However, engaging in activities such as these in the high-risk college environment requires the ability to self-regulate by avoiding rewarding but risky behaviors (e.g., drinking) while also effectively organizing behavior in the pursuit of delayed academic and career-related rewards. The current secondary data analyses evaluated self-regulation as a potential mechanism of behavior change in an alcohol intervention trial that compared a standard alcohol-focused brief motivational intervention (BMI) plus a behavioral economic substance-free activity session (SFAS) with an alcohol BMI plus relaxation training (reaction time [RT]) session (Murphy et al., 2012). Participants were 82 first-year undergraduate students (50% women; Mage = 18.5, SD = .71) who reported 2 or more past-month heavy drinking episodes. After completing a baseline assessment and an individual alcohol-focused BMI, participants were randomized to either the SFAS or the RT session. The BMI + SFAS condition reported greater mean self-regulation at 1 month compared with BMI + RT. Furthermore, self-regulation at 1 month significantly mediated the relation between condition and alcohol-related outcomes at 6-month follow-up. Although preliminary, these results suggest that brief behavioral economic intervention elements that an attempt to increase future goal pursuit and substance-free activities can enhance the short-term efficacy of standard alcohol BMIs and that this effect may be due in part to increases in self-regulation.

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