Basic behavioral and neurobiological research has demonstrated that deficiencies in naturally occurring substance-free rewards are both a cause and a consequence of substance abuse that are due in part to the systematic discounting of delayed substance-free rewards. Existing brief motivational interventions (BMIs) for alcohol abuse do not target this mechanism of change.
The goal of this uncontrolled pilot study was to evaluate a behavioral economic Substance-Free Activity Session (SFAS) to traditional alcohol BMIs.
Participants were 13 college freshmen who reported two or more heavy drinking episodes (>5/4 drinks in an occasion for men/women) in the past month. All participants completed a baseline assessment and a BMI that addressed alcohol use. In addition, participants received the SFAS, a 50-min individual session that attempts to increase engagement in constructive alternatives to drinking by enhancing the salience of delayed rewards (academic and career success) and the patterns of behavior (academic and extracurricular engagement) leading to these outcomes.
At the 1-month follow-up assessment, participants reported significant reductions in heavy drinking, and moderate to large effect size reductions in weekly drinking and peak blood alcohol levels.
The results of this pilot study provide preliminary support for the efficacy of this behavioral economic intervention session as a supplement to traditional alcohol BMIs.
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