Pilot trial investigating a brief behavioral economic intervention as an adjunctive treatment for alcohol use disorder


Objective: Behavioral economic research suggests that increasing the salience of a delayed reward may improve capacity for delaying gratification and increase behavior allocated toward obtaining larger, delayed substance-free reward rather than smaller, more immediate reward such as alcohol use. This study aimed to improve the efficacy of outpatient alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment by adding elements that target behavioral economic mechanisms of change. Method: Forty-one (N = 41) adults in outpatient AUD treatment were recruited and 37 participants were retained at follow-up. Following baseline assessment, participants received either the Substance Free Activity Session (SFAS), a single-session behavioral economic–informed intervention focused on increasing future orientation and engagement in values-based substance-free activities or a health education control intervention. Participants in both conditions received weekly prompts (via text or email) relevant to their respective intervention for four weeks. Participants (68.3% male; 70.7% Caucasian, M age = 38.24, SD = 12.69) reported an average of 3.95 (SD = 4.72) binge drinking episodes (4/5 drinks per occasion for a woman/man) and 5.05 (SD = 5.32) drinks per drinking day 30-days prior to treatment entry. Results: The study provided initial support for the feasibility and acceptability of implementing the SFAS within a treatment setting. Participants reported high levels of satisfaction with the SFAS (M = 9.08 (SD = 0.94), on a scale of 1–10). At 3-month follow-up, the SFAS was associated with reductions in the proportion of activity participation and enjoyment (reinforcement) related to substance-use relative to substance-free activities and in alcohol demand compared to control. Conclusion: These preliminary results provide initial support for targeting behavioral economic mechanisms of change in an outpatient AUD treatment with a single-session intervention plus remote delivery of booster prompts.

Publication Title

Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment