UK study shows promise for mental health approach to addressing risky drinking behavior among teens

In a large randomized controlled trial, researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, the University of Montreal and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center have shown that targeted psychological interventions for teenagers at risk of emotional and behavioral issues can significantly impact drinking behaviors, reports Medical News Today.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, included more than 2,500 student participants who were assessed for personality profiles that placed them at higher risk of becoming alcohol dependent. Those rated to be at high risk were identified as having one of four “risk” profiles: anxiety, hopelessness, impulsivity or sensation seeking.

All students had their drinking habits monitored across two years. Roughly half of the partcipating schools offered psychological interventions for their “high risk” students; the interventions entailed two group workshops that were tailored to each of the different personality profiles and were led by trained school staff. The workshops aimed to teach the teens cognitive-behavioral strategies for coping. The control group received the standard drug and alcohol education curriculum.

After two years, high-risk students in intervention schools were at a 29% reduced risk of drinking, 43% reduced risk of binge drinking and 29% reduced risk of problem drinking compared to high-risk students in control schools. The intervention also significantly delayed the natural progression to more risky drinking behaviour (such as frequent binge drinking, greater quantity of drinking, and severity of problem drinking) in the high-risk students over the two years.”

The researchers also observed a “herd effect.” Low-risk students at the schools in the intervention group were found to be less at risk to take up drinking or to binge drink, as compared to the low-risk participants in the control group. 

According to lead author Dr. Patricia Conrod, a mental health approach to alcohol prevention will be a more successul intervention than providing students with general alcohol education. The authors are advocating for the implementation of this new approach in UK schools.