Force of Habit: the Role of Routinized, Automatic Behaviors along the Path of Self-Regulation and Alcohol-Related Problems

  • Kyle J. WaltersEmail author
  • Jeffrey S. Simons
Full length manuscript



Dual-Process models of self-regulation suggest different facets of self-regulation predict adaptive (e.g., academics, exercise) and maladaptive (e.g., drinking) behaviors. Engagement in these behaviors may ultimately result in automatic habits that either promote or inhibit alcohol use and related problems.


This study tested a structural equation model of relationships between self-regulation constructs, health and drinking habits and automaticity, effortful inhibition, and alcohol problems in a college student sample (N = 405).


As expected, effortful control was positively associated with health habits, which were positively associated with health automaticity. Automaticity was inversely associated with effortful inhibition. Thus, effortful control was indirectly associated with less effortful inhibition, as hypothesized. Contrary to hypothesis, effortful inhibition was inversely associated with alcohol-related problems, which resulted in a positive indirect association between effortful control and alcohol problems. Reactivity was positively associated with drinking automaticity via drinking habits and positively associated with effortful inhibition and alcohol problems.


Results indicate effortful control and reactivity exhibit unique associations with health and drinking habits, automaticity, and effortful inhibition. Results suggest a somewhat paradoxical process whereby effortful control achieves its ends via decreased effort to engage in adaptive behaviors. Validity of using self-report and word association measures of automaticity was supported by the observed associations with predictors and outcomes.


Habits Automaticity Alcohol Effortful inhibition Self-regulation 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Force of Habit

The role of routinized, automatic behaviors along the path of self-regulation and alcohol-related problems.


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© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of South DakotaVermillionUSA

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