Thinking and Drinking: Alcohol-Related Cognitions Across Stages of Adolescent Alcohol Involvement

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Alcohol-related cognitions, particularly expectancies for drinking and nondrinking and motives for nondrinking, are involved in the initiation, maintenance, and cessation of alcohol use and are hypothesized to play key roles in adolescent decision making. This study explored (a) the relationships between alcohol use expectancies, nondrinking expectancies, and nondrinking motives; (b) the roles of these cognitions across hypothesized developmental stages of adolescent alcohol use; and (c) the relationships between these cognitions and recent or intended future changes in drinking behavior in a cross-sectional sample. Surveys assessing alcohol use behaviors and attitudes were administered to 1,648 high school students. Heavier drinkers reported more positive alcohol use expectancies and fewer nondrinking motives than did lighter drinkers or nondrinkers; however, nondrinking expectancies only differed between nondrinkers and rare drinkers and all subsequent drinking classes. Alcohol use expectancies, nondrinking expectancies, and nondrinking motives differentiated students who recently initiated alcohol from those who had not, while nondrinking expectancies and nondrinking motives differentiated binge-drinking students who had made recent efforts to reduce/stop their drinking from those who had not. Intentions to initiate or reduce drinking in the coming month were also associated with these alcohol-related cognitions. Drinking and nondrinking expectancies and motives for not drinking may play critical roles in decisions to alter alcohol-use behavior during adolescence. Future exploration of temporal relationships between changes in alcohol-related cognitions and behavioral decision making will be useful in the refinement of effective prevention and intervention strategies.

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