Page last updated:October 18, 2017

Brief online intervention to reduce alcohol consumption in new university students

A study tested whether an intervention that combined (1) messages that target key beliefs from the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) that underlie binge drinking, (2) a self-affirmation manipulation to reduce defensive processing, and (3) implementation intentions (if-then plans to avoid binge drinking) would reduce alcohol consumption in the first 6 months at university.

Before starting university, 2,951students completed measures of alcohol consumption and were randomly assigned to condition in a full-factorial design. TPB cognitions about binge drinking were assessed immediately post-intervention and at 1 and 6 months. Alcohol consumption was assessed after 1 week (n = 1,885), 1 month (n = 1,389), and 6 months (n = 892) at university. TPB cognitions were assessed again at 1 and 6 months.

Participants who received the TPB messages had significantly less favourable cognitions about binge drinking (except perceived control), consumed fewer units of alcohol, engaged in binge drinking less frequently, and had less harmful patterns of alcohol consumption during their first 6 months at university. The other main effects were non-significant.

The findings support the use of TPB-based interventions to reduce students' alcohol consumption, but question the use of self-affirmation and implementation intentions before starting university when the messages may not represent a threat to self-identity and when students may have limited knowledge and experience of the pressures to drink alcohol at university.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of a brief online intervention to reduce alcohol consumption in new university students: Combining self-affirmation, theory of planned behaviour messages, and implementation intentions. Norman P, Cameron D, Epton T, Webb TL, Harris PR, Millings A, Sheeran P. Br J Health Psychol. 2017 Sep 20. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12277.

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