The use of personalized feedback to change drinking behavior in college students
by Bellino, Lori, E., Ph.D., University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2002
Heavy drinking continues to be a significant problem for many college students, often resulting in considerable negative psychological, social, and health consequences. Newer interventions for this behavior focus on harm reduction methods such as reducing drinking intensity and negative consequences from use rather than the traditional focus of abstinence. This study built on previous work using harm reduction methods by testing the effect of mailed personalized feedback to intervene with heavy-drinking college students. Students were randomly assigned to receive either a Personalized Feedback Letter plus an alcohol advice brochure or the brochure alone. It was hypothesized that students assigned to receive the Personalized Feedback letter plus an alcohol advice brochure would demonstrate less intense drinking and fewer negative consequences of drinking compared to those who received only the advice brochure at the 6-week follow-up point. Results showed that both groups significantly reduced their drinking intensities and negative consequences from baseline to follow-up. No significant differences in drinking outcomes emerged between the groups, although trends were in the hypothesized direction. Post hoc analyses revealed a significant effect of the feedback intervention for a selected sample of heavier drinkers, with those who received the feedback showing greater reductions in Peak Blood Alcohol Content from baseline to follow-up compared to those who only received the advice brochure. Further post hoc analyses showed a significant effect of the intervention on normative estimates of others’ drinking, with students receiving the personalized feedback showing greater declines in their estimations of other’s drinking compared to those who only received the brochure. Results suggest that personalized feedback may be more salient for those with higher levels of drinking. Future studies are needed that compare different modalities of delivering feedback, include a longer follow-up period, as well as examine drinking trends over the course of the academic year.