Writing about the future self to shift drinking identity: An experimental investigation

Alcohol. 2024 May:116:35-45. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2023.10.002. Epub 2023 Oct 17.


College student drinking is prevalent and costly to public and personal health, leading to calls to identify and target novel mechanisms of behavior change. We aimed to manipulate drinking identity (a cognitive risk factor for hazardous drinking) via three sessions of narrative writing about a future self. We tested whether writing could shift drinking identity and would be accompanied by changes in alcohol consumption and problems. Participants were college students meeting hazardous drinking criteria (N = 328; Mage = 20.15; 59% women, 40% men, 1% gender-diverse; 60% white; 23% Asian; 12% multiple races; 2% other racial groups; 8% identified as Hispanic/Latino/a/x). The study had a 2 [narrative writing topic: low-risk drinker vs. reduced smartphone use] × 2 [writing perspective: first person vs. non-first-person] × 2 [social network instruction: instructed to include vs. not] factorial design. Outcomes were drinking identity, drinking refusal self-efficacy, alcohol consumption, alcohol-related problems, and craving. Participants completed three writing sessions and online follow-up assessments at 2, 4, and 12 weeks. The study is a registered clinical trial; hypotheses and analyses were preregistered (https://osf.io/vy2ep/). Contrary to predictions, narrative writing about a future self as a low-risk drinker did not significantly impact outcomes. Null results extended to expected interactions with writing perspective and social network instructions. The narrative writing task did not shift drinking or alcohol-related outcomes. Future experimental work may benefit from greater flexibility in conceptualizing a future self, recruiting individuals interested in behavior change, and more sensitive measures of drinking identity.

Keywords: college students; drinking identity; future self; hazardous drinking; narrative writing.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcohol Drinking in College* / psychology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Students / psychology
  • Universities
  • Writing
  • Young Adult