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J Consult Clin Psychol. 2014 Dec;82(6):984-92. doi: 10.1037/a0037039. Epub 2014 May 26.

Gender and depression moderate response to brief motivational intervention for alcohol misuse among college students.

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Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University.
Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Brown University.



Brief motivational interventions (BMIs) effectively reduce problematic drinking in college students. However, not all students benefit, and little is known about the subgroups of students for whom BMIs are most effective. In the present study, we examined 2 factors that may influence BMI efficacy: gender and depression.


We reanalyzed data from a clinical trial in which heavy drinking students (N = 330; 65% female) were randomized to a BMI (n = 165) or an assessment only control (n = 165). Depression was assessed at baseline; past-month typical drinks per week, heavy drinking frequency, and consequences were assessed at baseline and 1 month. Three- and 2-way interactions among intervention condition (BMI vs. control), gender (male vs. female), and depression (low vs. high) were tested.


We observed 3-way interaction effects on 2 outcomes: (a) typical drinks per week and (b) frequency of heavy drinking at 1 month. Relative to controls and adjusting for baseline drinking, low-depression women reduced their drinking more after a BMI whereas high-depression women did not show differential improvement. In contrast, high-depression men showed significant reductions in weekly drinks following the BMI whereas low-depression men did not show differential improvement. In addition, higher levels of depression were associated with higher levels of consequences at follow-up across conditions.


BMIs are indicated for heavy drinking, depressed men, consistent with recommendations for implementing screening and brief intervention in mental health settings. However, BMIs may need to be refined to enhance their efficacy for depressed women.

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