Behavioral economic approaches to reduce college student drinking


There is a need for novel, theory-based approaches to reduce heavy drinking on college campuses. Behavioral economics has guided basic laboratory research on drug administration for over 30 years and has recently been applied to human substance use in naturalistic and clinical settings. This paper provides an introduction to behavioral economics, reviews applications of behavioral economics to college student drinking, and describes prevention and intervention strategies that are consistent with behavioral economic theory. Behavioral economic theory predicts that college students' decisions about drinking are related to the relative availability and price of alcohol, the relative availability and price of substance-free alternative activities, and the extent to which reinforcement from delayed substance-free outcomes is devalued relative to the immediate reinforcement associated with drinking. Measures of problem severity are based on resource allocation towards alcohol and the relative value of alcohol compared to other reinforcers. Policy and individual level prevention approaches that are consistent with behavioral economic theory are discussed, including strategies for increasing the behavioral and monetary price of alcohol, increasing engagement in rewarding alternatives to substance use, and counteracting student drinkers' tendency to overvalue immediate relative to delayed rewards. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Addictive Behaviors