Taking Focus Off Drinking Reduces Alcohol Intake in College Students

Excessive alcohol consumption is common among college-aged individuals, but the behavior can be problematic. College students who report excessive drinking tend to have lower academic scores than their nondrinking peers and are less physically active. Additionally, heavy drinking can increase risk taking and result in symptoms of depression. Targeting this behavior is a priority on many college campuses. Brief motivational interviewing (BMI) is a technique that is designed to change the way a person thinks about drinking. Rather than placing a high value on the immediate rewards associated with drinking, BMI strives to underscore the negative consequences and puts emphasis on the delayed rewards associated with not drinking, such as higher academic achievement and brighter professional prospects. Unfortunately, people with depression do not respond as well to BMI as those without depression. Therefore, James G. Murphy of the University of Memphis’ Department of Psychology decided to add a novel component to BMI to see if it would result in better outcomes for college students with and without depression.

In a recent study, Murphy recruited 82 college freshmen who had a history of excessive drinking and enrolled them in BMI with either relaxation training (RT) or a substance-free activity session (SFAS) aimed at increasing nonalcoholic activities rather than decreasing drinking. Murphy evaluated the participants prior to the study commencement and again one month and six months after completion. He found that the participants in the SFAS condition had much larger decreases in alcohol consumption than those in the RT condition. He also found that the participants with depression reduced their drinking far more in the SFAS than the RT program. These findings suggest that young people with excessive drinking behaviors may reduce their alcohol consumption more when their focus is on increasing a substance-free activity rather than decreasing use of the substance. Murphy realizes that the sample size in his study was rather small and that follow-up time was limited, but still believes that the results achieved here have significant implications. “The SFAS may be especially effective for reducing alcohol problems by motivating students to employ more protective behavioral strategies,” he said.

Murphy, James G., Ashley A. Dennhardt, Jessica R. Skidmore, Brian Borsari, Nancy P. Barnett, Suzanne M. Colby, and Matthew P. Martens. A randomized controlled trial of a behavioral economic supplement to brief motivational interventions for college drinking. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 80.5 (2012): 876-86. Print.

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  • Lottie

    October 19th, 2012 at 4:54 AM

    I suppose that if you continue to inundate these college kids with all of the messages about everything that you think they are doing wrong, they may mistakenly get the impression that you are constantly going to be harping on them and that could cause even lower depths of depression. Sometimes it’s best to just lay off and back off a little, and the problem could actually begin to resolve itself.

  • bill

    October 19th, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    get those kids to have hobbies to deter them from drinking?? I have seen a few whose only hobby IS drinking! lol

  • MissT

    October 19th, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    If drinking is such a problem with this age group then why slack off with the emphasis on the problems that this can bring to their lives?

  • DALE

    October 19th, 2012 at 11:36 PM

    These youngsters’ brains are a whole different chemistry. Anything that can keep them away from drinking is good in my opinion. Because I have seen just so many college students get into trouble and issues that will haunt them for the rest of their lives,only due to drinking.They can overcome it but most often the problem is that they find the temporary gain,the high,to be more valuable than the long term benefits.

  • Aaron

    October 20th, 2012 at 5:19 AM

    Doesn’t a substance free activity inevitably lead to a decrease in substance use? I guess it’s all a matter of semantics, but if that’s the verbage and technique that works best with kids these age, then so be it. If they don’t really recognize that it is achieving the same outcomes, then, well, all is still good and you are helping them stop engaging in potentially damaging behavior for their personality type as well as giving them other ways to handle college and the issues they will be forced to encounter there.

  • vanessa

    October 20th, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    anything that can steer you away from depression sounds like a good idea when the depression is strong enough.so taking to drinking seems like a very easy choice.while substituting that activity sounds like a great idea,its not going to be easy to find activities that can do that for people,especially because what may work for one person may not work for another due to their preferences in activities.

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