Pupils in nineteen secondary schools across Galway have been taking part in a nationwide study on underage drinking and alcohol education in schools.
To date, more than 13,000 students across Ireland have taken part in Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme.
The programme involves 8-10 lessons delivered on a weekly/fortnightly basis by the trained teacher.
To better understand the effectiveness of this programme in changing attitudes towards underage drinking, Drinkaware commissioned NUI Maynooth to carry out a study of its progress.
More than 350 students in Galway have participated in the evaluation of the programme, carried out over three years as students progress from 1st to 3rd year.
The study found that as students progressed through the JC AEP, the proportion who expressed no intention or interest in drinking, rose from 30% in 1st year to 54% in 3rd year.
Students’ knowledge of the impact of alcohol on overall health and wellbeing increased substantially and progressively from 22% pre-programme to 50% in 3rd year.
Furthermore, nearly half (46%) of participating students identified the negative impact of alcohol on physical and mental health as a reason why teenagers do not drink.
In Galway City the participating secondary schools are St Mary’s College, Our Lady’s College, Merlin College, and Coláiste na Coribre.
Outside the city the programme has come to Presentation College and McHale College in Tuam; Presentation College, Headford; Dunmore Community School; Glennamaddy Community School; Colaiste Naomh Féichin, Corr na Mona; Coláiste na Cregán, Mountbellew; St Cuan’s College, Castleblakeney; Scoil Phobail Mhic Dara, Carna; Coláiste Naomh Éinne, Inis Mór; Gaelscoil Coláiste na Eachréidh and Cláirin College in Athenry; Garbally College and Youthreach in Ballinasloe; and Clifden Community School.
Neasa Cosgrove, Principal at Presentation Secondary School, Tuam said that they have seen a “noticeable shift” in their students attitude towards alcohol, particularly the
“Pupils are impressionable at this age, and peer pressure is a reality,” Principal Cosgrove highlighted.
“Programmes like Drinkaware’s JC AEP play a huge role in helping teachers engage with young people to give them the information, and the personal and social skills they need to make better decisions long term.”
“Teachers are a major touchpoint in teenagers’ lives, but we are only one. It is important that alcohol education comes from all angles – from the home, from peers, and from the wider community.”
The biggest tipping point seen in the study came between 2nd and 3rd year in secondary school, where the number of students who said that they had never drank alcohol fell by 17%.
Among the cohort who reported drinking by that point, 38% said that they had already one or more negative effects of alcohol consumption, such as physical fights, arguments, accidents/injury, and/or feeling physically sick/vomiting.
Drinkaware is the national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse in Ireland, governed by and independent board and regulated by the Charities Regulator.
Commenting on the report findings, Sheena Horgan, Drinkaware CEO said: “15 years of age is the average age of the first drink in Ireland. But average doesn’t tell the full story.
“This study shows how attitudes, and behaviours shift markedly across 13 to 15 year olds, meaning alcohol education before this age is vital.”