Rethinking positive and negative aspects of alcohol use: Suggestions from a comparison of alcohol expectancies and decisional balance

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Objective: Few studies have compared similar alcohol-related constructs such as alcohol expectancies and decisional balance: two conceptualizations of the positive and negative aspects of alcohol. The purpose of this study was to compare these constructs and to examine their ability to predict alcohol use and problems. Method: A sample of 406 college students recruited from Psychology courses at a mid-sized Northeastern University completed a questionnaire that included measures of alcohol expectancies, decisional balance, drinking indices and drinking problems. Of these students, N = 389 (73% female) were drinkers and were included in analyses. Results: Positive expectancies (PE) and the pros were more related to one another than were negative expectancies (NE) and the cons. The 8-item pros scale outperformed 20 items measuring PE in the prediction of alcohol problems and performed equally well in the prediction of alcohol indices. The negative relationship of cons to alcohol indices, something not found with NE, suggested that the cons scale may include components important to the measurement of negative aspects of alcohol. Conclusions: Although expectancies, particularly PE, have been a common choice for use by researchers, these data suggest that decisional balance scales may be a better choice because their predictive ability is equal to or better than that of expectancies, and their response burden on participants is lower. Instruments that aim to measure the negative aspects of alcohol use should include severe and distal items to better capture this negative attitudinal domain.

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Journal of Studies on Alcohol