Efficacy of alcohol interventions for first-year college students: a meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2014 Apr;82(2):177-88. doi: 10.1037/a0035192. Epub 2014 Jan 20.


Objective: Alcohol use established during the first-year of college can result in adverse consequences during the college years and beyond. In this meta-analysis, we evaluated the efficacy of interventions to prevent alcohol misuse by first-year college students.

Method: Studies were included if the study reported an individual- or group-level intervention using a randomized controlled trial, targeted 1st-year college students, and assessed alcohol use. Forty-one studies with 62 separate interventions (N = 24,294; 57% women; 77% White) were included. Independent raters coded sample, design, methodological features, and intervention content. Weighted mean effect sizes, using fixed- and random-effects models, were calculated. Potential moderators, determined a priori, were examined to explain variability in effect sizes.

Results: Relative to controls, students receiving an intervention reported lower quantity and frequency of drinking and fewer problems (d(+)s = 0.07-0.14). These results were more pronounced when the interventions were compared with an assessment-only control group (d(+)s = 0.11-0.19). Intervention content (e.g., personalized feedback) moderated the efficacy of the intervention.

Conclusions: Behavioral interventions for 1st-year college students reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. Interventions that include personalized feedback, moderation strategies, expectancy challenge, identification of risky situations, and goal-setting optimize efficacy. Strategies to prevent alcohol misuse among first-year students are recommended.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Students
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Universities