Forming implementation intentions (i.e., if-then plans) might be a successful strategy not to drink too much alcohol. A recently published meta-analysis1 shows that forming implementation intentions produces small but significant reductions in weekly consumption but has no effect on heavy episodic drinking.

What is already know? Forming an implementation intention is associated with an increase in health-related behaviour2 and recent meta-analyses show that forming implementation intentions increases physical activity3, decreases dietary fat intake4 and reduces smoking5. A meta-analysis on alcohol consumption5 reports that forming implementation intentions may reduce alcohol consumption.

What does this study add? The current study1 is the first meta-analysis to separate weekly alcohol consumption from heavy episodic drinking. Sample type, mode of delivery, intervention format and timeframe were tested as moderator variables.

If-then format
The meta-analysis includes sixteen studies and estimates the effect of forming implementation intentions on weekly alcohol consumption and heavy episodic drinking (HED or binge drinking). Implementation intentions identify a situational cue and link it to an appropriate behavioural response using an if-then format; for example, if I am offered an alcoholic drink, then I will ask for a non-alcoholic drink6

Heavy Episodic Drinking
Overall, results provide modest support for the use of implementation intentions as an intervention to reduce weekly consumption, but there is no support for reducing HED. Interventions are more effective when delivered to community (not university) samples and over shorter time frames. HED means men drinking more than five standard drinks or women drinking more than four standard drinks in a single session7.

Other health behaviour
The effect of implementation intentions on weekly alcohol consumption is considerably smaller compared to the effect on other health behaviours. This might be because alcohol consumption is often driven by contextual, cultural, environmental and social influences8-10 and it is difficult for individuals to form implementation intentions that overcome these influences.


  • Both weekly alcohol consumption as HED analysed
  • Several moderator variables included
  • Controlling for baseline differences in consumption


  • Few studies reported using randomised controlled designs
  • Sometimes lack of studies to conduct some of the planned moderator analyses


  1. Cooke, R,  McEwan, H,  Norman, P.  The effect of forming implementation intentions on alcohol consumption: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug Alcohol Rev.  2022.
  2. Gollwitzer PM, Sheeran P. Implementation intentions and goal achievement: a meta-analysis of effects and processes. Adv Exp Soc Psychol. 2006; 38: 69– 119.
  3. Bélanger-Gravel A, Godin G, Amireault S. A meta-analytic review of the effect of implementation intentions on physical activity. Health Psychol Rev. 2013; 7: 23– 54.
  4. Vilà I, Carrero I, Redondo R. Reducing fat intake using implementation intentions: a meta-analytic review. Br J Health Psychol. 2017; 22: 281– 94.
  5. Malaguti A, Ciocanel O, Sani F, Dillon JF, Eriksen A, Power K. Effectiveness of the use of implementation intentions on reduction of substance use: a meta-analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020; 214:108120.
  6. Gollwitzer PM. Goal achievement: the role of intentions. Eur Rev Soc Psychol. 1993; 4: 141– 85.
  7. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).  NIAAA approves definition of binge drinking. NIAAA Newsl [Internet]. 2004 [cited 17 July 2020]; 3(Winter). Available from:
  8. Cooke R, Conroy D, Davies EL, Hagger MS, de Visser RO.  Psychological perspectives on alcohol consumption. In:  R Cooke,  D Conroy,  EL Davies,  MS Hagger,  RO Visser, editors.  The Palgrave handbook of psychological perspectives on alcohol consumption.  
  9. de Visser RO.  The social contexts of alcohol use. In:  R Cooke,  D Conroy,  EL Davies,  MS Hagger, RO Visser, editors.  The Palgrave handbook of psychological perspectives on alcohol consumption. Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2021. p.  135– 57
  10. Aresi G, Bloomfield K.  Cultural differences in alcohol consumption: the state of the art and new perspectives on drinking culture research. In:  R Cooke,  D Conroy,  EL Davies,  MS Hagger,  RO Visser, editors.  The Palgrave handbook of psychological pers

You must be of the legal drinking age in your country to visit this site.

I am of the legal drinking age in my country

Stay informed

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from Beer and Health.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This