Do Anticipated Consequences Affect Alcohol Consumption?

According to a recent study conducted by Jennifer E. Merrill of the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York, the way in which a person views his or her drinking behaviors, positively or negatively, affects motivation to change his or her drinking patterns. A majority of college students drink alcohol; however, not all go on to become dependent. Some curb their drinking behavior as they mature, while others continue down a path that could put them at risk for alcohol misuse. To better understand who is most vulnerable, it is important to look at how these young adults subjectively view the consequences of their drinking.

In her study, Merrill asked 96 college students to rate how they would assess 24 specific consequences related to drinking. The participants completed weekly assessments over a 10-week period. Merrill examined how their responses influenced decreases in drinking and found that the students’ evaluations varied greatly. The students who felt they had experienced negative consequences one week tended to decrease their drinking the following week. Students who interpreted their consequences as less harmful did not decrease their drinking. These findings suggest that people who believe their drinking has negative consequences may use that awareness as a motivator for change.

There were some disturbing results as well. For instance, Merrill found that some of the participants did not perceive certain behaviors, such as needing a drink first thing in the morning, as negative or harmful. “Findings suggest that those students most in need of making a change to their drinking (i.e., those experiencing withdrawal, tolerance, and impaired control) may be least likely to acknowledge that need,” Merrill said. Overall, the results of this study show that students have unique and subjective views on what is harmful and what is not when it comes to drinking. Clinically, interventions aimed at reducing drinking behavior among college students may prove more effective if they address subjective beliefs about drinking consequences as a means to reducing alcohol use.

Merrill, J. E., Read, J. P., Barnett, N. P. (2012). The way one thinks affects the way one drinks: Subjective evaluations of alcohol consequences predict subsequent change in drinking behavior. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029898

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  • Chase

    October 11th, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Sometimes I definitely think that college age kids expecially anticipate going to a party and having a good time when they are drinking so yeah, I see how that can play a role in the choices that they tend to make when drinking.

  • Steven N

    October 11th, 2012 at 11:26 PM

    Youngsters in college have more things that influence them than just their perception. I have so many friends who will swear they are never going to drink again after a night of drinking gone wrong and a bad hangover but proceed to drink the next day anyway.

    If their sense of realization affected their drinking behavior in the near future then we would have a lot less drinking on campuses.They understand its negative effects and still continue to down drinks soon after.It is almost like an addiction at a subconscious level that is never acknowledged.

  • jennifer M

    October 12th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    From my point of view if those who are going to drink to excess do it, then they are not at all concerned about the consequences of doing so. All they are worried about is getting their drink on and having a good time. I remember being that way in college and a few years after. I don’t think that you really start worrying about the consequences of your actions until you are being held accountable for them and you are forced to take a little more responsibility.

  • norris

    October 12th, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    from my own experience and that of seeing others I certainly do not think anticipated consequences matter to most people that drink.if it did then we would have far less people actually taking to drinking and an even lower number getting into trouble due to it.

    not only does alcohol cloud your judgement but even the decision to consume it in the first place is somewhat clouded in a drinker’s mind.

  • Dean

    October 12th, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    They may change their behaviors for a little while, but at this age, they are soon going to forget about the consequences and start drinking all over again. I don’t think that this is something that any of us are immune from, but I think that it is something that you see a lot more with younger people than you would with those who are older and a little more mature. College students, while they like to think that they are all grown up, in essence they are still just kids and trying to work out some of the kinks of life. They make mistakes just like the rest of us, but sometimes it takes them a little longer to catch on that just because a behavior didn’t produce negative consequences the first time around doesn’t mean that there still isn’t the potential for that to happen in the future.

  • Gina

    October 12th, 2012 at 11:39 PM

    Consequences affecting alcohol consumption sounds logical and would be right, but only for matured people and those that partake into drinking only occasionally. In terms of young people many of them just want to get drunk. Visit any campus and you will see this.

  • tori anderson

    October 13th, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    it may depend on who it is doing the drinking

    young person? prob doesn’t care so much about the consequences

    adult? maybe a little more

  • rand

    October 15th, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    For most of us I find that we give a little more thought to our actions when we are around others who also do the same.
    but I remember pretty vividly being around these friends in high school who really felt like they had little to live for and answer for so they did not really care what the consequences of their actions would be.
    It’s like I knew deep inside that I should do better, know better, be better, but I couldn’t break that little stranglehold that the peer pressure had over me, and I dare say that that lure can be even stronger today than it once was.

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