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Early intervention to change teenagers’ risky drinking behaviour

Researchers are spearheading a unique project to change the behaviour of teenagers and prevent them getting into dangerous situations as a result of alcohol.

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Dr Emma Giles (front), with Professor Newbury-Birch.

Dr Emma Giles (front), with Professor Newbury-Birch.


Dorothy Newbury-Birch, Professor of Alcohol and Public Health Research at Teesside University's Health and Social Care Institute, is leading the project after securing a £866,000 grant from the National Institute for Health Research. The award for the work is held at the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University.

Teesside and Newcastle University, in collaboration through Fuse: the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, are working with colleagues from Kent University, Kings College London and Liverpool John Moores University.

Professor Newbury-Birch hopes that if the research proves successful it can be rolled out into mainstream secondary school education in a bid to cut risky drinking among teenagers.

The research will focus on 14 and 15-year-olds who are at a crucial stage of their development, both academically and socially.

Up to 4,000 teenagers, across the North East, North West, London and Kent, will be asked about their alcohol use as part of the study. Six hundred will then be signed up to take part in the trial. Half of those will receive an intervention from a learning mentor at their school who will talk to them about their behaviour, choices and the dangers associated with alcohol.

Professor Newbury-Birch and her team will then re-engage with the 600 teenagers a year later to see if they have reduced their drinking. The role alcohol plays in the lives of those who received the intervention will then be analysed alongside those who received no intervention to see if it has made a significant impact to their relationship with alcohol.

'We all know that many teenagers experiment with alcohol, but we want to provide them with the tools and motivation to change their behaviour,' explained Professor Newbury-Birch.

'Teenagers might, for example, drink on a Friday night because they see all of their friends doing it. But how do they say no? What alternatives are there? Do they feel empowered to make their own decisions?

'Aside from the obvious health implications associated with alcohol consumption at that age, there are the other dangers, such as getting involved in fights and sexual activity and the risky decisions teenagers can make when alcohol is involved. Our aim is to educate them and prevent them getting into risky and potentially dangerous situations in the first place.'

Professor Eileen Kaner, who specialises in Public Health research at Newcastle University and is a Senior Investigator in Fuse, said: 'Given the large amount of time that young people spend at school, learning more about the world and also about themselves, it is important to see if this setting can be helpful in promoting health and well-being during early adolescence; and it is really positive that NIHR have chosen to fund such a study.'

Dr Emma Giles, a Senior Research Lecturer in Teesside University’s School of Health and Social Care, is the Project Manager and will be working alongside Professor Newbury-Birch.

She said: 'We carried out a successful pilot trial in the North East and are delighted to secure funding to extend this research which could make a significant difference to the lives of young people.

'If we can prove this type of early intervention works, there is no reason why it can’t be rolled out in schools across the country.'

The research is due to last for two years and gets underway in September.

01 September 2015

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Health, Medical and Sciences updates, 1/11/2015
Dorothy Newbury-Birch featured in report on ADHD drugs


Project is set to take on teenage drinking
The Northern Echo, 07.09.2015
Teesside University's project on teenage drinking.


Research into how to tackle the effects of booze on teenagers
Northern Echo Online, 02.09.2015; BBC Tees, 02.09.2015; Care Appintments, 03.09.2015
Teesside University staff, Dorothy Newbury-Birch and Emma Giles mentioned in article.