College students entering adulthood often drink too much. Negative consequences can include missed classes, poor grades, a wide array of injuries, and even assault. Many academic institutions have addressed this problem by offering computer-delivered interventions (CDIs) for rapid and wide dissemination to students. Although effective in the short term, CDIs are not as helpful longer-term as face-to-face interventions. However, face-to-face interventions are typically only used with students who receive alcohol sanctions, whereas CDIs can be used with large groups (such as student athletes, or all incoming students) and are more cost-effective. This study examined the usefulness of "boosters" – personalized emails sent to post-CDI participants – for maintaining decreased drinking.
Researchers enrolled 537 volunteers from among undergraduate college students (362 females, 175 males) at a mid-size public university in the southeast for this study. Participants were 18 to 24 years old and had consumed at least one alcoholic drink in the previous two weeks. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: CDI-only, CDI + booster email, or assessment only. A booster email with personalized feedback was sent to the CDI + booster email group two weeks after completion of the CDI. All participants were followed for up to nine months after the intervention.
Although the brief CDI did not exert effects on drinking or alcohol-related problems, the brief CDI plus a simple email booster with personalized feedback resulted in significant reductions in drinking and alcohol-related problems among young adults of legal drinking age. Furthermore, reduced drinking continued through month nine. However, the same strategy showed no effect on underage drinkers. The authors speculated that the booster email may be very timely for legal-drinking-age college students, who may be most receptive to messages about reducing risky drinking. Further, legal-drinking age-college students could be more receptive to booster content when they receive it shortly after the original intervention, as in the current study's 2-week window, when they may be more motivated to control their drinking.