An Incentive/Reward Intervention to Decrease Alcohol Abuse at Fraternity Parties: Differential Reinforcement of Blood Alcohol Concentration


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Virginia Tech


This quasi-experimental field study examined the efficacy of an intervention to decrease alcohol abuse by college students. The harm reduction approach states that the ultimate goal when dealing with an unsafe behavior should be abstinence, but any change in behavior in the direction of less harm is supported. This approach was used as the basis of the current research, in combination with differential reinforcement in order to reduce alcohol consumption and its behavioral outcome, blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A total of 409 male and female college students participated while in the applied setting of four fraternity parties. The study took place at two separate fraternity houses, a control fraternity and an experimental fraternity. During the intervention phase, participants with a BAC below .05 were entered into a raffle to win a cash prize. Upon entry to the intervention party, participants were given flyers announcing the raffle and contingency, and gender-specific nomograms to aid in BAC self-monitoring. Dependent measures were blood alcohol concentration measured by hand-held breathalyzers, percentage of participants below criterion BAC levels (i.e., .05 and .08), accuracy of BAC self-estimation, number of negative outcomes due to excessive alcohol consumption, number of positive outcomes due to abstinence or moderate alcohol consumption, and amount of reported fun experienced at the party. Results showed the intervention did not significantly reduce the intoxication of participants or increase the percentage of participants below criterion BAC levels. These results are best explained by a floor effect, as the experimental fraternity had a relatively low baseline BAC. The use of nomograms at the intervention party increased the accuracy of students' BAC self-estimations. Implications for nomogram use and improvements for future implementation of the incentive/reward intervention are discussed.



blood alcohol concentration, Differential reinforcement