Informal kinship carers – the poor relations?

buttle uk - kinship report

Buttle UK yesterday published research into the experiences of children and informal kinship carers, and I found it a powerful and useful piece of work.  One of the things that struck me was just how many kinship carers arrangements were as a result of drug or alcohol misuse.

They found that in 2 out of 3 cases (67%) drugs and/or alcohol played a part in the decision to remove children from their parent’s care.

The research includes the voice of carers and children, which brings home some of the desperate circumstances that lead to these decisions being made.

Continue reading

Drugs, alcohol and relationships – another reason why PSHE is a public health issue

Cool TedI’ve been thinking recently that we ought to be much clearer that relationships should be a much more central part of drug education – perhaps a re-brand to Drugs Alcohol and Relationships Education (DARE), or perhaps not.

In any case we know that peer relationships are a critical factor in young people’s lives and in whether they are likely to use substances.  It’s one of the reasons many of us argue for personal, social and health education (PSHE) should be thought about as a whole rather than its constituent parts.

This piece of research from the US looks at a group of 184 young people who were ‘followed’ between the ages of 13 to 23, along with parents, peers, and romantic partners.

What they seem to have found is that those teenagers who struggled to create some level of autonomy and independence within their peer group – such as being able to resist shoplifting or vandalism – were at higher risk for substance misuse as young adults.  Conversely those who were able to think for themselves seemed to be able to resist negative peer pressure better and had fewer substance misuse problems later.

The researchers argue:

“Teaching teens how to stand up for themselves in ways that preserve and deepen relationships — to become their own persons while still connecting to others — is a core task of social development that parents, teachers, and others can all work to promote.”

There’s an interesting write-up with more detail over at Science Daily.

Evidence-based programmes in schools: are they a realistic solution for drug and alcohol prevention?

On 26 March, Mentor will be hosting a seminar: ‘What works’ in supporting young people’s development – making evidence useful for schools and practitioners. Mentor is very supportive of the use of evidence-based programmes, but to say that their use in the UK for drug and alcohol prevention has been limited is an understatement.

There are different types of evidence (see the presentation below) but some of the strongest comes from randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Allocating randomly between the intervention and control groups makes it more likely that any improvement is due to the intervention and not some other factor. Continue reading

YouTube and drug videos

YouTube video Brandweer NederweertThis paper, by Paul Manning from the University of Winchester, has some really interesting analysis of the sorts of films being uploaded to YouTube about drugs, the substances being discussed, and the intentions of the film makers.

The paper suggests that for every official drugs education video there are a further 3 videos about drugs on YouTube.  But there is considerable difference in the number of videos made about different drugs and the number of times they get watched.   Continue reading

Is the provision of information enough to reduce risky behaviours in young people?

Drugs Kill, photo by Flikr user Randy Edwards

The government’s drug strategy talks about ensuring schools provide accurate information on drugs and alcohol through drug education as a core element in its attempts to reduce drug use, but is does the evidence suggest that information provision will work?

The Department for Education have commissioned the Centre for Understanding Behaviour Change to produce a review looking at research focused on raising awareness of the consequences of risk taking behaviours and studies using a social norms approach.

The report finds that focusing on providing information is more successful at changing knowledge and perceptions than changing actual behaviour, and this is particularly true on programmes that focus on the consequences approach.

This is something we’ve been clear about for some time, we consistently point out that emphasising knowledge and health harms (particularly extreme harms) without building up protective factors, skills and values  and reducing risk factors have a history of being ineffective. Continue reading

Research: Early alcohol misuse and the potential for brain damage

This paper published in Cortex, an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, looks at early alcohol use and brain damage and tries to answer the question are young alcohol misusers on the same pathway as those who eventually develop alcohol-related brain damage.

Their reading of the evidence suggests adolescents and young adults who drink to excess may be.  They say:

young people who drink excessively are at risk of functional and structural brain damage, which may have long lasting adverse consequences

They draw five conclusions from their review.

  1. We should be aware that young people seem to drink in different ways to adults – they drink less frequency but drink more on each occasion, often until they are drunk.  This places them at higher risk.
  2. Adolescence and early adulthood is a critical period for brain development, and this is associated with risk taking behaviours.  The authors note that “females and males may be differentially affected or have different levels of risk.”
  3. Heavy alcohol use in young people may affect brain maturation.  But the authors are cautious in drawing that conclusion pointing out that the damage may pre-date alcohol misuse, and that the brain is going through significant change at this point.
  4. Early brain changes may increase the likelihood of alcohol problems in later life.
  5. We need more prevention and early intervention strategies to be developed.  These need to target (a) delaying the onset of use and reducing binge drinking, (b) identifying those young people experiencing early onset ‘alcohol-induced brain impairment’, and (c) more effective early intervention and treatment options for young people.

In the accompanying press release the authors suggests there are limitations to the use of the law to raise the age at which young people drink.  They say:

In Australia the legal drinking age is 18, three years earlier than in the US. Despite the difference in legal drinking age, the age of first use (and associated problems) is the same between the two countries.

I’ve included a set of slides below from our colleagues at Mentor International which looks brain development and substance misuse in adolescence.


After yesterday’s rather sombre reminder that drugs and alcohol remain amongst the highest risks for the death of young people in Western Europe some rather better news.

The annual report into drug deaths from St Georges says that deaths amongst those aged 15-24 in England appear to have dropped over the past ten years by about 60%.

The report tells us that overall the number of deaths associated with drug use in the UK has fallen by 6.7% in the last year.  They say there were 1,757 notifications of drug-related deaths occurring in 2011 in the UK and Islands.


Early Drunkenness – why government in the UK needs to take notice

New research with young people from across Europe and North America suggests that early drunkenness increases the risks for a group of adolescent problem behaviours at the age of 15.

The researchers have examined the results of the Health Behaviours in School aged Children (HBSC) survey giving them a sample of over 40,000 15 year olds from over 38 countries where the young people have had some experience of alcohol.

What they find is a positive correlation between those who had experienced early drunkenness and 5 other risky behaviours – smoking, cannabis use, injuries, fights, and low academic performance.  Interestingly they report that when a child first uses alcohol to the time they are first drunk did not predict problem behaviours – suggesting perhaps that early drunkenness, rather than the first drink itself, should be a concern for prevention practitioners.

This blog looked at the results from the HBSC survey when they were published last year and there were details about the level of drunkenness experienced by young people in Europe.  In the survey young people were asked at what age they first got drunk. The findings presented were for 15-year-olds only and show the proportions who reported first getting drunk at age 13 or younger.

Looking at the results what we see is that the UK has results that should worry our policy makers.

Scotland has the 6th highest level of drunkenness, Wales comes in 8th and England is a place behind in 9th.

HBSC - drunk

It seems to me that it is this sort of data that ought to be driving a proper prevention strategy, and is why across the UK there is a need for a commitment to proper resources for evidence based prevention, and (to be parochial) in England we need:

  • the Department of Health to publish their response to the Children’s Health Outcomes Forum which published their report in July 2012.
  • the DfE to report on their proposals for health education, first announced in November 2010; and
  • NICE to be allowed to finish their guidance on sex and relationship guidance and alcohol education, suspended in May 2010.