Guilt and expressive writing for reducing alcohol use in college students: Study protocol for a randomized control trial

Clayton Neighbors, Jordanna Lembo Riggs, Chelsie M. Young, Lindsey M. Rodriguez, Joanne Angosta, Pelin Cunningham-Erdogdu, Qian Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current proposed study aims to evaluate expressive writing as a novel intervention for reducing problematic drinking among college students. College students are at increased risk for alcohol misuse compared to other adults, and the development of efficacious intervention approaches is an urgent priority. The vast majority of individually focused brief interventions targeting college drinking have focused on personalized feedback approaches and recent innovations have largely been limited to refinements of this paradigm, which require large-scale assessment and intricate programming for implementation. The present research proposes expressive writing as a novel alternative, which has been used extensively in other domains but not as an alcohol intervention strategy. We propose a theoretically-based approach that incorporates expression of the self-conscious emotion of guilt and the written analogue of change talk as proposed mechanisms of intervention efficacy. We will also examine individual differences in guilt-proneness as a moderator of intervention efficacy. Heavy drinking college students (N = 600) will be randomly assigned to one of six expressive writing conditions based on a 2 (alcohol vs. distress) × 2 (guilt vs. no guilt) + 1 (control writing) + 1 (personalized feedback) design. Participation in the study involves completion of a screening assessment, a baseline assessment, three in-lab intervention sessions, post-intervention assessments, and follow-up assessments one-month, three-months, six months, and twelve-months later. If effective, this novel intervention approach would not require any pre-assessment or programming of personalized feedback, and would serve as a more easily disseminable alternative to existing approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106107
JournalContemporary Clinical Trials
StatePublished - Oct 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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