Drinkaware statement on alcohol education programme

Drinkaware is the national independent charity [registration no. 20204601] working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse and delay the age of first drink in Ireland. We are concerned and disappointed by the recent misinformed comments from a HSE representative and repeated in the media by a national politician in relation to the Drinkaware Junior Cycle Alcohol Education programme (JC AEP).

Drinkaware has for the past four years, in line with best practice, been providing training to teachers in schools across Ireland on the JC AEP. The programme does not teach students about drinking, but rather centres on the fact that alcohol has no place in childhood, and the programme fills a much-needed gap in alcohol education, that schools, parents and students themselves are calling for.

Inaction regarding underage drinking cannot be an option.  It is wholly irresponsible of public representatives to declare that students, teachers and parents should sit back, while levels of binge drinking amongst young people in Ireland continue to rise, and be asked to wait for a programme to be developed (with no date in sight), when an evidence-based programme, that was created by experienced educators and is proven to be effective, is already available.

Drinkaware’s JC AEP is the only national primary prevention alcohol education programme, and primary prevention is critical to tackling underage drinking. Currently, the only state-provided alcohol education is directed at senior cycle students who are 17 years plus, and research clearly indicates that the ‘tipping point’ for first drink is 2nd – 3rd year.

In the absence of any alternative junior cycle programme, it would be a disservice to deny students, teachers and parents access to a fit-for-purpose, holistic programme, that has been independently evaluated over three years by Maynooth University.  

This evaluation of the Drinkaware JC AEP found that the programme delivered:

  • Increase in the number of those with ‘no intention or interest in drinking’ from 30% in first year to 54% in third year;
  • Increase in the number of those with ‘knowledge of the impact of alcohol on overall health and wellbeing’  from 22% pre-programme to 50% in third year;

To date, 15,000 1st to 3rd year students have gone through the programme, 161 schools have taken part and 313 teachers have attended training.  Both groups are hugely positive and supportive of the programme as illustrated in the following quotes:

“I am more aware of the long-term and short-term effects of drinking alcohol and what can happen e.g. liver damage, mental health issues, damage to relationships, academic achievements where you can’t concentrate fully, possibly become an alcoholic and mess up friendships” (Y2 student).

“It is very well researched, and it has a very diversified approach in methodologies. It is fun, frank, and interactive. Superb” (Y3 teacher).

Drinkaware has previously reached out to Healthy Ireland and both the Oireachtas Committees on Education and Health in relation to this programme, and they have been made aware of the success of the programme in terms of delaying the age of first drink and in increasing the knowledge of alcohol harms. At no stage since the programme’s inception or in correspondence with either Healthy Ireland or the Committees on Education/ Health has an issue been raised or a request to view the materials in their entirety been made.

Teachers are best placed to evaluate the effectiveness of alcohol education programmes and it is absurd to suggest that teachers would naïvely deliver inappropriate materials to students.  Teachers who engage with our programme continue, year on year to share their positive experiences in delivering the programme and recommend it to other teachers, through their vocal support.

Drinkaware requests that, as a registered charity with an independent board of directors, Drinkaware is given the opportunity to brief the Education and Health Committees, the HSE and Healthy Ireland on the programme in its entirety.

Drinkaware’s funding is a clear matter of record.  The corporate voluntary donations provided in no way allow the companies to seek to influence our work which includes our education programme, and our formal agreements with them state this explicitly.  Our independence is enshrined in our constitution and governed by our independent Board.

We agree with the Department of Health’s ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025’, that “more education and public awareness campaigns are needed and information should be provided through schools, parents, communities, television, internet, social media and mobile phone apps”. This is the work Drinkaware has been and will continue to deliver, under our public health remit as outlined in the constitution of the charity.