Negative Evaluations of Negative Alcohol Consequences Lead to Subsequent Reductions in Alcohol Use

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Abstract

Alcohol use during young adulthood may reflect a learning process whereby positive and negative alcohol-related experiences and interpretations of those experiences drive subsequent behavior. Understanding the effect of consequences and the evaluation of consequences could be informative for intervention approaches. The objective of this study was to examine the extent to which the number of positive and negative alcohol consequences experienced and the evaluation of those consequences predict subsequent alcohol use and consequences in college students. Students at 3 colleges (N = 679) completed biweekly web-based surveys on alcohol use, positive and negative consequences, and consequence evaluations for 2 academic years. Hierarchical linear modeling tested whether consequences and evaluations in a given week predicted changes in alcohol use and consequences at the next assessment. Moderation by gender and class year were also evaluated. Evaluating past-week negative consequences more negatively than one’s average resulted in decreases in alcohol use at the next assessment. More negative evaluation of negative consequences was followed in the subsequent observation by a higher number of positive consequences for females but not for males. A higher number of positive consequences in a given week was followed by a higher number of both positive and negative consequences in the subsequent observation. Number of negative consequences experienced and evaluation of positive consequences had no effect on later behavior. Salient negative consequences may drive naturalistic reductions in alcohol use, suggesting the possible efficacy of programs designed to increase the salience of the negative effects of alcohol.

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