MU Evaluation Release

Alcohol education in schools can prevent and intervene in underage drinking

Maynooth University’s 3-year longitudinal study shows positive impact for Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme.  

This significant study, for the first time, tracks 1st to 3rd year students’ experiences of alcohol education in Ireland in real time.  As the national charity working to reduce and prevent alcohol misuse in Ireland, Drinkaware commissioned Maynooth University’s Centre for Mental Health and Community Research to investigate the programme’s effectiveness and, in particular, its primary prevention goal to delay the age of first drink.  

13,000 students have participated in the programme to date and over 350 Junior Cycle students from 19 schools across the country, were surveyed as they participated in the programme over a three-year period (2018-2020).  The study also collated the experiences and views of approximately 132 teachers who were involved in delivering the JC AEP.  

Increase in Intent Not to Drink & Improved Understanding of Impact of alcohol 

The report found that as the 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.  The findings also show that participation led to substantial and sustained improvements in students’ knowledge and understanding of alcohol when compared with pre-programme delivery data.  

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.  A similar increase was found regarding students who reported ‘knowing a lot’ about alcohol’s impact on mental health which also doubled from 23% pre-programme to 46% 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. 

Tipping Point for Underage Drinking is 2nd – 3rd Year

As the study followed participating students through their three formative years of secondary school, there was a marked shift across some of the results when comparing 2nd and 3rd year data.  For instance, the 60% (approx.) of students who indicated that they had never drunk alcohol remained fairly stable between 1st and 2nd year, but then decreased sharply by 17% as students went from 2nd to 3rd year.

A disturbing result revealed in the study was that 38% of 3rd year participating students who drink, have already experienced one or more negative effects of alcohol consumption, such as physical fights, arguments, accidents/injury, and/or feeling physically sick/vomiting. 

Parents as enabling and/or protective factors in underage drinking

A recurring theme identified within the report, was that of parents’ role in underage drinking.  Parental permissiveness – even if this is only perceived by the student – and the ease with which alcohol can be accessed in the home setting, may either inhibit or enable underage drinking. For instance, 57% of 3rd year students had first consumed alcohol either in their own or someone else’s home, most saying they did so with little difficulty whilst only 1 in 4 said they got into trouble with parents for drinking.

In contrast to the 44% in 3rd year who cited tolerant parental views regarding alcohol, 19% indicated that their parents do not like to see them drinking, and 17% of those in 3rd year who had not started drinking cited concerns over their parents’ reaction as a deterrent to drinking.  

Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme a hit with teachers & students 

The findings on the views of teachers, reflected a general consensus that parents/guardians should take primary responsibility for alcohol education (63%) and that they either were not fulfilling this role or needed support to do so. 

With regard to the participating students and teachers’ views of the JC AEP, the study reveals consistently high proportions of students in each year of the evaluation, rated the JC AEP highly; for example, 63% of students in Year 3 rated it as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’.  60% also said that they would recommend the programme to other students/schools.  

On average across the 3 years 96% of the teachers thought that the programme was ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’ and 93% would recommend it to other schools. Teachers also, in increasing numbers, enjoyed delivering the programme as it progressed across the three year (94% in year 3, 89% in Year 2, and 86% in year 1). 

A copy of the Summary Report is available for download here.