Brief motivational interventions for college student drinking may not be as powerful as we think: An individual participant-level data meta-analysis

David Huh, Eun Young Mun, Mary E. Larimer, Helene R. White, Anne E. Ray, Isaac C. Rhew, Su Young Kim, Yang Jiao, David C. Atkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Background: For over 2 decades, brief motivational interventions (BMIs) have been implemented on college campuses to reduce heavy drinking and related negative consequences. Such interventions include in-person motivational interviews (MIs), often incorporating personalized feedback (PF), and stand-alone PF interventions delivered via mail, computer, or the Web. Both narrative and meta-analytic reviews using aggregate data from published studies suggest at least short-term efficacy of BMIs, although overall effect sizes have been small. Methods: This study was an individual participant-level data (IPD) meta-analysis of 17 randomized clinical trials evaluating BMIs. Unlike typical meta-analysis based on summary data, IPD meta-analysis allows for an analysis that correctly accommodates the sampling, sample characteristics, and distributions of the pooled data. In particular, highly skewed distributions with many zeroes are typical for drinking outcomes, but have not been adequately accounted for in existing studies. Data are from Project INTEGRATE, one of the largest IPD meta-analysis projects to date in alcohol intervention research, representing 6,713 individuals each with 2 to 5 repeated measures up to 12 months postbaseline. Results: We used Bayesian multilevel over dispersed Poisson hurdle models to estimate intervention effects on drinks per week and peak drinking, and Gaussian models for alcohol problems. Estimates of overall intervention effects were very small and not statistically significant for any of the outcomes. We further conducted post hoc comparisons of 3 intervention types (individual MI with PF, PF only, and group MI) versus control. There was a small, statistically significant reduction in alcohol problems among participants who received an individual MI with PF. Short-term and long-term results were similar. Conclusions: This study questions the efficacy and magnitude of effects of BMIs for college drinking prevention and intervention and suggests a need for the development of more effective intervention strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)919-931
Number of pages13
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the Research Society on Alcoholism.


  • Bayesian multilevel models
  • Brief motivational interventions
  • College drinking
  • Integrative data analysis
  • Meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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