The Way One Thinks Affects the Way One Drinks: Subjective Evaluations of Alcohol Consequences Predict Subsequent Change in Drinking Behavior

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Abstract

Heavy alcohol use and related consequences are common during the college years and are associated with deleterious outcomes for both the students themselves and the college community. Some college students make self-initiated changes to their drinking to avoid such outcomes, but little is known about how such adjustments occur, or characteristics that are associated with making these adjustments. Based on Social Learning Theory (SLT), one cognitive factor that may predict within-person changes in drinking is the subjective evaluations of alcohol consequences (i.e., the extent to which consequences are perceived as negative, aversive, or severe). The aim of the present study was to investigate whether subjective evaluations of recently experienced consequences influence within-person changes in drinking behavior. In 10 weekly, web-based surveys, regularly drinking college students (N = 96, 50 female) reported on their previous week alcohol use and experience of 24 alcohol-related consequences, as well as their subjective evaluations of those consequences. Results demonstrated that evaluations across the consequences varied, and that in addition to differing from one another, students' evaluations of consequences differed at the within-person level over time. Most important, hierarchical linear model tests revealed that students drank less and experienced fewer consequences following weeks in which they rated their consequences as more negative (relative to their own typical subjective evaluations), suggesting that viewing one's recent consequences as aversive prompts self-initiated behavior change. Findings of the present study have potential to inform interventions for college drinking, particularly those that target how individuals think about their behavior and its consequences.

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