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Thursday, July 28, 2011

College students’ evaluations of alcohol consequences as positive and negative

Alcohol expectancy, motivation, and consequences measures assume a known valence of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ outcomes. However, different individuals may rate the same consequences of alcohol use as good or bad.

The current study examines the extent to which: (a) college students rate researcher-defined positive consequences as good and researcher-defined negative consequences as bad, and (b) these evaluations predict alcohol use and problems after controlling for previous use.

In longitudinal self-reports via web-surveys across the first three semesters of college, students (N= 600; 54% women) reported their alcohol use and problems, experienced consequences, and evaluations of those consequences.

Contrary to the generally-accepted valence of positive consequences, Fun/Social consequences were viewed as neutral or negative by 22% (having more fun) to 73% (relieving boredom) of participants. Over half of participants evaluated each of the Relaxation, Sex, and Image consequences items as neutral or negative. Consistent with the generally-accepted valence of negative consequences, Physical/Behavioral consequences were viewed by the majority as negative, although 11% (getting in trouble with police/authorities) to 34% (doing/saying something embarrassing) of students rated these consequences as neutral or positive.

Independent of levels of previous drinking, more positive evaluations of Fun/Social consequences prospectively predicted frequency, quantity, and maximum drinks. Less negative evaluations of Physical/Behavioral consequences predicted more alcohol problems.

There is variation in the evaluations of consequences among college students, and understanding characteristics of those who view consequences as positive or negative may have implications for future alcohol-related behaviors and problems.

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