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Motivational Interviewing Could Reduce Excessive Drinking by Students

A counseling style, called motivational interviewing (MI), can be used to reduce alcohol abuse by college students, particularly those under the legal drinking age//, according to Psychologists.

“The real beauty of this approach is that you guide students in a process of resolving a situation on their own,” said Dale Kirkley, alcohol and drug services coordinator at Appalachian’s Student Wellness Center. “By honestly reflecting on and recognizing the discrepancies between their current behavior and their real goals and values, they often develop safer and healthier strategies for socializing and having fun.”

The results of an on-campus study on MI have been published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (2006, Vol. 37) in the article “Group-based motivational interviewing for alcohol use among college students: An exploratory study” co-authored by Kurt Michael, Lisa Curtin, Kirkley and Dan Jones. Michael and Curtin are professors in Appalachian’s Department of Psychology. Jones directs the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center.

“There is a rapidly growing movement with counselors to incorporate a motivational interviewing approach when working with behavioral change issues due to the evidence for its effectiveness,” Kirkley said.

MI is a collaborative rather than confrontational style that incorporates empathy, respect and acceptance. Because it has worked well to help individuals reduce high-risk behavior, such as drinking, Kirkley and others decided to try the technique in a group setting.

College students’ drinking behavior has long worried university officials nationwide. A recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that almost half of the nation’s full-time college students binge drink at least once a month.

“We had been talking about how we could do some kind of brief intervention to ameliorate some of the drin king on campus,” said Michael, who also is associate director of clinical services in Appalachian’s Institute for Health and Human Services.

“A lot of the practitioners and academicians on campus knew the motivational interviewing model and that it had a pretty good literature base, but it had never been tested in a group format,” Michael said.

Because college students’ drinking behavior tends to diminish over time as students progress through college, the researchers decided to target the higher risk, younger college student.

They used the motivational interviewing technique with students in the university’s Freshman Seminar program. During two 75-minute class sessions, they talked with students about their goals and values and helped the students recognize discrepancies between their current behavior and their values.

A total of 91 freshmen participated in the study. Of that number 47 were in MI group prevention classes while 44 were in a control group.

“We didn’t think that this type of intervention would be terribly potent in a group format,” Michael said. “We were surprised to find that students who had the intervention consumed fewer drinks and became intoxicated less often than the control group.”

Students who previously had reported getting drunk four to five times a month reported 1.5 fewer episodes of intoxication in a 30- to 45-day period following the MI sessions. They also reported consuming 4.5 fewer drinks during that period.

“It’s a modest change,” Michael said of the results. “We’re not saying that this is a panacea, but reducing episodes of intoxication by even one a month is good. Whether these findings will hold up over time, we don’t know yet.”


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