BACKGROUND: Young adult heavy drinking is an important public health concern. Current interventions have efficacy but with only modest effects, and thus, novel interventions are needed. In prior studies, heavy drinkers, including young adults, have demonstrated stronger automatically triggered approach tendencies to alcohol-related stimuli than lighter drinkers. Automatic action tendency retraining has been developed to correct this tendency and consequently reduce alcohol consumption. This study is the first to test multiple iterations of automatic action tendency retraining, followed by laboratory alcohol self-administration.
METHODS: A total of 72 nontreatment-seeking, heavy drinking young adults ages 21 to 25 were randomized to automatic action tendency retraining or a control condition (i.e., "sham training"). Of these, 69 (54% male) completed 4 iterations of retraining or the control condition over 5 days with an alcohol drinking session on Day 5. Self-administration was conducted according to a human laboratory paradigm designed to model individual differences in impaired control (i.e., difficulty adhering to limits on alcohol consumption).
RESULTS: Automatic action tendency retraining was not associated with greater reduction in alcohol approach tendency or less alcohol self-administration than the control condition. The laboratory paradigm was probably sufficiently sensitive to detect an effect of an experimental manipulation given the range of self-administration behavior observed, both in terms of number of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks and measures of drinking topography.
CONCLUSIONS: Automatic action tendency retraining was ineffective among heavy drinking young adults without motivation to change their drinking. Details of the retraining procedure may have contributed to the lack of a significant effect. Despite null primary findings, the impaired control laboratory paradigm is a valid laboratory-based measure of young adult alcohol consumption that provides the opportunity to observe drinking topography and self-administration of nonalcoholic beverages (i.e., protective behavioral strategies directly related to alcohol use).