Incorporating Expressive Writing into a Personalized Normative Feedback Intervention to Reduce Alcohol Use among College Students



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This study combines personalized normative feedback (PNF) and expressive writing into a brief intervention to reduce drinking among undergraduates. Limitations of PNF interventions include reactance, defensiveness, and a lack of attention to and adequate processing of the information. Adding a writing component to PNF interventions may compensate for these limitations and boost intervention efficacy. The present study evaluated whether increasing cognitive processing and reducing defensiveness and reactance in response to PNF through an expressive writing task would improve the efficacy of this brief intervention tool. Participants included 244 University of Houston students who met screening criteria, correctly answered two out of three check questions, and were randomized to receive either: 1) PNF about their alcohol use; 2) expressive writing about a heavy drinking occasion; 3) PNF plus expressive writing; or 4) attention control feedback about their technology use. One month post-baseline, 169 participants completed a follow-up survey asking about their past month alcohol use and alcohol-related problems. Results revealed that the PNF plus writing condition significantly reduced drinking via the AUDIT-C and reduced alcohol-related consequences at follow-up compared to control. Further, intervention effects were moderated by factors such as readiness to change, intentions for drinking, depth of processing of the feedback, and cognitive processing language in the narratives. Findings have implications for future alcohol intervention efforts among college student drinkers.



Drinking, Brief intervention, Narrative, Social norms, Cognitive processing