Teenage Alcohol Use and Educational Attainment

A few days ago I wrote about the links between substance misuse and other risky behaviours and educational outcomes pointing to US research which suggests that the correlations are clear even if the causation isn’t.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to attend a conference organised by the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources programme about alcohol use by young people and young adults.

As the organiser’s name suggests the focus was on what some of the longitudinal data tells about the outcomes for young people who use alcohol.

I’m sure that CLOSER will share all the presentations but I want to focus on a paper that formed the basis of the first presentation, by Dr Jeremy Staff of Penn State University, who looked at what we can learn about the educational outcomes of young people who use alcohol. Continue reading

Chicken or Egg? Who cares, the link between health behaviours and educational outcomes are clear

This meta-analysis of 25 years of data from the US makes it very clear that there is an intimate relationship between health behaviours – including substance misuse – and academic achievement.

The paper (which is free to download) looks at the data for the following risky behaviours and educational outcomes:

  • violence;
  • tobacco use;
  • alcohol and other drug use;
  • sexual behaviours contributing to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases;
  • inadequate physical activity; and
  • unhealthy dietary behaviours.

They conclude:

For all six health-risk behaviors, 96.6% of the studies reported statistically significant inverse relationships between health-risk behaviors and academic achievement.

Continue reading

Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes – implications for drug and alcohol issues

The Department of Health have published their response to the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum setting out what they propose to do to strengthen the accountability framework for the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

My reading is that we’ve made some progress towards what Mentor was asking for in our response to the consultation carried out in May last year. Continue reading

Reasonable expectations

Perhaps one of the most important questions we need to answer in drug prevention is what are we trying to achieve.

Recently we’ve published the outcomes from the Street Talk project that we did with Addaction (see the presentation below).  In our eyes the results were incredibly positive and I think we should be very proud of what was achieved.

As you’ll see what we are able to show is that the use of Motivational Interviewing improved young people’s knowledge about where to seek support, their confidence in taking informed decision, and overwhelmingly led to the young people saying that they intended to reduce the risks they were taking with drugs and alcohol.

But not everyone shares my view that these are extraordinarily positive outcomes and a few days after we published our results we received an email – which had also been sent to Ministers, MPs and others – which was critical of what we achieved.

Our critic was Mary Brett, retired school teacher and former Vice President Europe Against Drugs, who argues:

It is perfectly acceptable to try to reduce the misuse of alcohol by young people, certainly to try stopping them from binge-drinking which is especially harmful to the liver. As alcohol is legal, young people can be advised about safe limits and how not to put their health in jeopardy.

However when it comes to illegal drugs, the situation is entirely different. Firstly it should be the use of drugs, not misuse we should be talking about. Secondly, since drugs are illegal the aim should be to stop the use of them.  Thirdly  there is no guaranteed safe way to take any drug – warnings on packets of prescription drugs make that very clear.

Another view, set out in a paper looking at developing a study on a drug education programme in Australia, is that abstinence, whilst it might be desirable, isn’t reasonable.  The authors point out:

historical approaches to school drug education have not been particularly successful at reducing AOD [alcohol or other drug] use. This then poses the question as to whether effectiveness should be measured by abstinence or reduced use, or whether harm reduction is a more realistic and useful measure. Harm reduction programs offer greater promise of achieving worthwhile benefit because they have the flexibility to select strategies on the basis of evidence of effect. Within this model abstinence or reduced use strategies may be chosen if there is evidence that they reduce harm, but they are not goals in their own right.

I’d be really interested in your views about how we position Mentor in this debate, how do we describe the outcomes we are reaching for and whether it is reasonable to achieve them?   Do programmes that work to reduce harm fit with our mission, and can they be done without condoning drug and alcohol use?