Subjective evaluations of alcohol consequences as predictors of subsequent change in drinking behavior
Merrill, Jennifer Elizabeth
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Heavy alcohol use and related consequences are common during the college years, and are associated with deleterious outcomes for both the individuals and the college community. Though some college students make self-initiated changes to their drinking, little is known about how such adjustments occur or what characteristics render students more likely to make them. Social Learning Theory (SLT) provides a guiding framework in this study with primary aims to investigate whether (1) subjective cognitive evaluations of experienced alcohol consequences influence within-person changes in drinking behavior, (2) subjective evaluations mediate the influence of individual-level variables (past experience with and normative perceptions of alcohol consequences) on weekly drinking behavior, and (3) subjective evaluations are relatively more influential on within-person behavioral change than empirically-established (objective) severity of experienced consequences. Following a baseline assessment of individual-level variables, participants (N=96 regularly drinking college students) completed ten weekly web-based surveys on previous week alcohol use and experience of 24 alcohol-related consequences, as well as their cognitive evaluations of those consequences. Results demonstrated that greater deviations above one's typical negative evaluation rating were associated with lower levels of alcohol use and consequences the following week. Support for the full mediational chain from norms or past experience to subjective evaluations to drinking behavior was not supported in the direction expected; however, evaluations remained significant after accounting for these important between-person influences. Lastly, I observed mixed support for a stronger influence of subjective negative evaluations than objective negative evaluations when considering subsequent alcohol use and consequences. Findings of the present study provide insight into the processes by which students self-initiate change in alcohol use behaviors and have potential to inform interventions for college drinking, particularly those that target how individuals think about their behavior and its consequences.