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



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.

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Correspondence to Kyle J. Walters.

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Force of Habit

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

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Walters, K.J., Simons, J.S. Force of Habit: the Role of Routinized, Automatic Behaviors along the Path of Self-Regulation and Alcohol-Related Problems. Int.J. Behav. Med. 27, 52–64 (2020).

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  • Habits
  • Automaticity
  • Alcohol
  • Effortful inhibition
  • Self-regulation