Success Over Teen Drinking

Alcohol misuse can start early but personality focused interventions may help

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Teenagers have an incredible capacity to learn, grow and change. And that capacity may be of service when it comes to reducing unhealthy drinking behavior among teens.

Recently, a group of researchers ran a trial to test a personality-focused alcohol intervention program on a group of 9th graders.

The results of the trial showed that a long-term reduction in unhealthy drinking behaviors among teens could be achieved through teacher-led sessions focusing on how to better manage emotions and behavior.

"Teach kids to cope, not to drink."

Patricia J. Conrod, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Universite de Montreal in Canada, led a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of a program to train teachers to counsel high-risk students about alcohol misuse.

“Alcohol use is highly prevalent and problematic among youth in developed countries and has been reported to cost society more disability-affected life-years than any other health risk behavior, accounting for 9 percent of all deaths of people aged 15 to 29 years,” according to the authors.

For this study, 18 schools in London volunteered the participation of their 9th grade classes in 2007 for teacher-led alcohol misuse interventions for high-risk students. The students averaged 14 years of age.

The students were surveyed for high-risk and low-risk personality traits. High-risk personality traits included anxiety sensitivity, hopelessness, impulsive behavior and sensation seeking. A total of 1,210 participants were labeled high risk and 1,433 were labeled low risk.

Teachers and counselors were given a two to three day training workshop on how to lead the personality-based interventions and supervised for at least four hours of intervention practice rounds.

Interventions were given at schools labeled high risk, meaning a single school did not split up groups into high risk and low risk. Certain schools held intervention sessions and invited high-risk students, while other schools did not have an intervention session at all. At the start of the study, both intervention schools and control schools had similar rates of substance use.

In 2008, each of the intervention schools held two 90-minute group intervention sessions for each of the four personality risk factors. Student workbooks were provided for each of the four personality intervention sessions.

The sessions combined aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy techniques to help the students think about their feelings and encourage healthy emotional regulation.

Teens in the low-risk group were not given interventions, but did have to sit through the standard substance abuse education session that is required of all students in the UK. 

All 2,643 participants were brought in for follow-up questions about drinking habits at six, 12, 18 and 24 months after the initial intervention trial. Follow-up questions asked students about how often they drank, how many drinks they had and how often they binge drank. 

Problem drinking behaviors were also assessed with the follow-up questions. Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting.

The results of the study showed that interventions were associated with a 29 percent reduction in the odds of students drinking compared to no intervention. A 43 percent reduction in the odds of binge drinking and a 29 percent reduction in the odds of problem drinking were also observed in the intervention schools, compared to the non-intervention schools.

The researchers found that most of the teens who had already started to drink kept drinking after intervention sessions, but the quantity of drinking was reduced.

Another outcome of the intervention program was the “herd effect,” which means kids from the intervention schools that were not part of the intervention sessions also drank less and had lower problem and binge drinking simply because their peers were practicing healthier drinking habits.

The authors said they saw the intervention program impact all of the drinking habits for the full 24-month follow-up period.

The authors concluded that training teachers and school counselors to run intervention sessions might be a cost-effective way to reduce problem drinking in high school-aged kids.

This study was published in March in JAMA Psychiatry. Action on Addiction provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 4, 2013
Last Updated:
April 8, 2013