Psychology ETDs

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Emerging adulthood is a transition period where many college students choose to engage in high-risk substance use (e.g., binge drinking). This choice to misuse substances occurs during a developmental period when students are faced with an increased responsibility to structure and manage their time across multiple personal (and potentially competing) goals. The current study approached the problem of college drinking by using two procedures from the Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA). Rating current happiness and coupling it with goal setting was evaluated as a potential means of increasing substance-free reinforcement that could compete with (i.e., reduce) alcohol use. Males and females ages 18-25 years who consumed alcohol in the last 30 days were randomized to either a control condition (n = 89) or a goal-setting condition (n = 79). Both conditions reported their substance use and levels of happiness at baseline and during a one-month follow up. In the goal-setting condition, the most commonly selected goal was physical exercise. Participants in this condition increased their happiness and reduced their alcohol consumption over the course of the study. Overall, the goal-setting condition reported a greater reduction in alcohol use when compared to the control group. Additionally, this study found that more time spent in academic activities or volunteering/charity work (among the experimental condition) was correlated with lower levels of alcohol use at baseline. An increase in the amount of time spent in academic activities or spiritual activities was correlated with lower levels of alcohol consumption at follow up. This study also evaluated the Pleasant Activities List (PAL), a modern survey instrument that has not yet been used with U.S. college students. It was found that alcohol-related reinforcement was highly correlated with measures of alcohol use. The PAL was also highly correlated with the Adolescent Reinforcement Survey Schedule (ARSS), a survey instrument commonly used with college students in the U.S. Social activities, especially those that involve friends or a potential romantic partner, were found to be highly reinforcing with alcohol while individual activities, such as self-care and physical fitness, were low in alcohol-related reinforcement. The implications of a reinforcement-based approach are discussed.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Witkiewitz, Katie

Second Committee Member

Venner, Kamilla

Third Committee Member

Roozen, Hendrik

Fourth Committee Member

Hester, Reid




college students, substance use, alcohol, reinforcement, Community Reinforcement Approach

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