A Behavioral Activation Intervention Administered in a College Freshman Orientation Course

  • End date
    Jun 17, 2024
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Kansas
Updated on 17 October 2021
depressed mood
Accepts healthy volunteers


The transition from high school to college is a developmentally sensitive period that is high risk for escalations in alcohol use. Although risky drinking is a common problem among freshmen, engagement in treatment services is very low. The proposed study will test a behavioral activation intervention that addresses factors limiting participation in standard treatment services by targeting alcohol use indirectly, by directly addressing concerns most relevant to incoming college freshmen, and by integrating an intervention into the college curriculum.


The transition from high school to college is a developmentally sensitive period that is high risk for escalations in alcohol use. Although risky drinking is a common problem among freshmen, engagement in treatment services is very low. Low rates of engagement with treatment resources may occur because interventions target drinking directly at a time when students may be uninterested in changing their drinking. Moreover, with a targeted focus on alcohol use, current interventions also do not address the concerns of incoming freshmen, such as stress and sleep. Approaches that address the problems students are most concerned about, that also indirectly reduce drinking, may be particularly effective.

Behavioral activation (BA) is an intervention that indirectly addresses psychopathy by guiding individuals to identify goals in their lives, and encouraging individuals to engage in reinforcing activities that align with their goals (Lejuez et al, 2001). While initially used to treat depression, BA has been efficaciously applied to substance use because BA acts on the same reinforcement process implicated in problem drinking. BA addresses drinking without specific reference to alcohol use by focusing on engagement in reinforcing activities that align with students' goals. A pilot study provided initial indication that a brief BA intervention administered in a semester-long freshman orientation course resulted in a significant decrease in drinking-related problems, compared to standard orientation (Reynolds et al. 2011). Notably, the approach never raised the issue of drinking unless raised by a student themselves.

The purpose of the study is to conduct a fully powered cluster randomized trial testing BA administered in a semester-long (16 week) freshman orientation course, compared to a standard orientation course in 540 freshmen spread over 36 course sections (18 sections each of the BA and standard orientation format). A 5-month post-treatment assessment will measure durability of effects. Mediation analyses will test mechanisms of action and moderation analyses will examine factors related to efficacy. A random sample of 20% of participants will complete a 17 month follow up, which will occur at the end of their sophomore year of college, to examine long term effects. With this proposed R01, the investigators will test a promising intervention with BA that addresses factors limiting participation in other programs by not targeting alcohol directly and by integrating an intervention into college curriculum, with the additional benefit of testing mediators to guide future work. This application represents a first step toward developing an intervention course that could be widely disseminated to address the persistent college drinking problem and its many consequences.

Condition Bulimia, Endogenous depression, Depression, Alcohol abuse, Binge eating, Depression (Major/Severe), Stress, Alcohol Use Disorder, Depression (Adolescent), Depression (Pediatric), Depression (Adult and Geriatric), Depression (Treatment-Resistant), Depressed, Alcohol Dependence, Binge Eating Disorder, depressive disorder, depressed mood, miserable, depressive disorders, binges
Treatment Behavioral Activation
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04038190
SponsorUniversity of Kansas
Last Modified on17 October 2021


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Inclusion Criteria

College freshmen enrolled in UNIV 101 freshman seminar courses at the University of Kansas assigned to the study

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