Psychology helps teenagers at risk of problem drinking

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Using a mental health approach to alcohol prevention among students is more effective than traditional PSHE lessons, a two-year trial has concluded.

Using a mental health approach to alcohol prevention among students is more effective than traditional PSHE lessons, a two-year trial has concluded.

The results of the study, involving 2,548 year 10 students, found that using the alternative approach resulted in high-risk students being 43 per cent less likely to binge drink.

The trial involved 21 schools, 11 of which received the intervention, with the remaining 10 sticking to the normal UK statutory drug and alcohol education curriculum.

The intervention saw high-risk students classified into four personality profiles – anxiety, hopelessness, impulsivity or sensation-seeking – and given targeted psychological interventions delivered by teachers from their schools who had been specially trained for the purpose.

A total of 709 students in the intervention schools were invited to attend two workshops offering learning in cognitive-behavourial strategies targeting the four different profile-types.

Six in 10 children aged 11 to 15 in England report drinking and across the UK around 5,000 teens are admitted to hospital every year for alcohol-related reasons.

Lead author of a paper on the study, Dr Patricia Conrod, from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said: “Through the workshops, the teenagers learn to better manage their personality traits and individual tendencies, helping them to make good decisions for themselves. 

“Depending on their personality profiles, they might learn cognitive-behavioural strategies to better manage high levels of anxiety, to manage their tendency to have pessimistic reactions to certain situations, or to control their tendency to react impulsively or aggressively. 

“Our study shows that this mental health approach to alcohol prevention is much more successful in reducing drinking behaviour than giving teenagers general information on the dangers of alcohol.”

After two years, researchers found a 29 per cent reduced risk of drinking among high-risk students, a 29 per cent reduced risk of problem drinking, and a 43 per cent reduced risk of binge-drinking.

The intervention schools also noticed an impact on low-risk students who did not attend the workshops, but were seemingly influenced by their peers who did.

Dr Conrod added: “This ‘herd effect’ is very important from a public health perspective as it suggests that the benefits of mental health interventions on drinking behaviour extend to the general population.”

The study was commission by Action on Addiction, a charity which works with children suffering from the effects of addiction.

Chief executive Nick Barton said that current prevention work in the UK was “inadequate” and failed to address binge-drinking. He added: “We know that problematic relationships with alcohol often start at a young age, so if it is possible to reduce the chances of harmful drinking and dependency in later life through school-based interventions we would welcome seeing this programme rolled out across UK schools.”

Dr Conrod added: “This intervention could be widely administered to schools: it is successful from a public health perspective, appreciated by students and staff, and because we train school staff rather than professional psychologists, the intervention remains relatively inexpensive.”

For more information on Action on Addiction, visit www.actiononaddiction.org.uk


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