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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