Recent independent research by the University of Liverpool has found that the Public Health Agency (PHA) funded School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project (SHAHRP) has achieved significant, positive results in raising awareness of alcohol misuse and reducing alcohol-related harm.
Delivered annually to 16,000 pupils in schools across Belfast and the South Eastern area, SHAHRP was evaluated against groups of pupils who did not receive the project; these are called the ‘control’ group.
The findings, in the teacher-led SHARP programme compared to the ‘control’, included:
- 70% increase in knowledge about alcohol across time;
- 73% increase in ‘healthier’ attitudes across time.
Findings in the ‘control’ group, compared to the teacher-led SHARP programme, included:
- 30% increase in proportion of unsupervised drinkers across time
- 45% increase in harms resulting from their own drinking
- 63% increase in alcohol related harm reported by them associated with other people’s drinking
The link between heavy drinking in adolescence and the probability of developing serious alcohol-related problems in adulthood is widely recognised. Those who start drinking before the age of 14 are four times more likely to develop dependence, compared to those who start at age 20.1 There is also an increased potential susceptibility to developing alcohol abuse problems, as adolescents’ brains are still developing.2 A further study found that the clearest predictor of alcohol dependence in young adults was regular recreational alcohol use in teenage years.3
Dr Michael McKay, lead researcher from the University of Liverpool team, said: “We followed over 2,500 young people from 29 schools for 32 months, examining their knowledge of alcohol, attitudes towards alcohol, drinking habits and resultant behaviours. These results show that those who took part in the SHAHRP intervention reported significantly better results compared to their peers in schools who did not receive the programme. We were very pleased with these results.
“As researchers, we are indebted to the staff of Lisburn YMCA and teachers from the schools who have enthusiastically embraced the programme and his work shows what can be achieved with collaborative working.”
Owen O’Neill, PHA Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager, said: “The PHA has funded SHAHRP through the Eastern Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team, as part of the Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs 2006–2011. We know that alcohol experimentation, more than any other drug, is widespread among young people. SHAHRP challenges our youth to consider their behaviours regarding personal health and social responsibility. To know that this programme works so well is excellent.
“The PHA will continue to work with partners and invest in evidence based prevention programmes such as this as a way of reducing personal difficulties and potentially saving money in future treatment. We all have a responsibility to encourage our young people to refrain from underage drinking and, if they choose to drink in adulthood, to stay within safe limits.”
The interactive SHAHRP programme tackles health-related behaviours that support the revised curriculum for schools in Northern Ireland in areas such as citizenship and personal development, as well as relating to specific health and social outcomes. The PHA hopes to expand the programme to the other education and library board areas as part of regional research and development plans.
Owen O’ Neill continued: “These findings are important. We can now state with confidence that this effective programme will raise awareness and reduce harm from alcohol misuse. This is certainly something that we need to progress in order to reduce harm, along with other important measures such as the minimum price of alcohol”.
1 Grant, B.F. & Dawson, D.A. (1997) Age at onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: results from the national longitudinal alcohol epidemiological survey. Journal of Substance Abuse, 9, 103-110.
2 Spear, L.P. (2000) The adolescent brain and age-related behavioural manifestations. Neuroscience and Bio-behavioural Reviews, 24, 417-463.
3 Bonomo, Y.A., Bowes, G., Coffey, C., Carlin, J.B. & Patton, C. (2004) Teenage drinking and the onset of alcohol dependence: a cohort study over seven years. Addiction, 99, 1520-1528.
4 McBride et al., (2004) Harm minimisation in school drug education: final results of the School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project (SHAHRP). Addiction, 99, 278-291
Further information Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.
Pupils Daria Szlehebed, Lisnagarvey High School, Lisburn; Megan Dunleavey, St Patrick’s, Academy, Lisburn; Ciaran Mooney, Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast and Evan Johnston, Friends’ School, Lisburn, representing four of the schools from the Belfast and South Eastern Education and Library Boards involved in the Public Health Agency (PHA) funded ‘School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project’ (SHAHRP). They are pictured with Owen O’ Neill, Regional Drugs and Alcohol lead, PHA (standing, left) and Dr Michael McKay, Liverpool University, who lead a team that recently undertook a very positive, independent evaluation of SHAHRP. The interactive SHAHRP programme tackles health-related behaviours that support the revised curriculum for schools in Northern Ireland in areas such as citizenship and personal development, as well as relating to specific health and social outcomes. The PHA hopes to expand the programme to the other education and library board areas as part of regional research and development plans.
Notes to the editor
- SHAHRP content and design is continually being developed. Nyanda McBride, (original author) and a team of research colleagues at the University of Liverpool continue to assist Lisburn YMCA in the following developments:
- Structured research into service user involvement
- Interactive programme design
- Robust evaluation of outcomes
- SHAHRP was developed at the National Drug Research Institute in Perth, Western Australia.4 They also worked with the University of Liverpool in evaluating the modified programme for Northern Ireland, which was delivered principally by Lisburn YMCA staff and teachers within each school.
- The four year SHAHRP evaluation, involving 2500 participants from 29 schools and using a highly sophisticated latent growth modelling technique, was carried out between 2005 and 2009. Results are to be published in the Journal of Substance Use (draft copy available upon request). It clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the intervention.
- SHAHRP also develops teaching staff, to be confident and competent when dealing with issues of underage drinking. This is particularly useful as it is an example of cross-departmental engagement (Health and Education) to help achieve public health outcomes.
- The Eastern Drugs and Alcohol Coordination Team (EDACT), led by the PHA, is a collaboration of key organisations working within the field of drugs and alcohol from the eastern area, including a range of voluntary, community and statutory bodies.