Higher than average levels of impulsiveness, sensitivity to anxiety, sensation seeking and hopelessness. These four personality traits have been shown by researchers to predict those teenagers at high risk of becoming binge drinkers with 90 per cent accuracy.
In the first Australian trial, a program targeting 438 year 8 students with one of these traits successfully halved the onset of drinking and the incidence of binge drinking for up to three years following the intervention.
The Preventure program was designed by Professor Patricia Conrod from the University of Montreal more than 10 years ago to modify a teenager’s behaviour and thinking. It has now been tested on thousands of teenagers around the world – including in the Czech republic, Canada, Britain and Australia – with similar results.
In the first Australian trial in NSW and Victorian schools, students were classified as high risk using the “Substance Use Risk Profile” scale, which measured whether they had higher than average levels of one of the four personality traits. Some had more than one.
Over three years, the private and public school students were asked every six months how often they drank and the frequency of their binge drinking, reported the new research in the Psychological Medicine journal.
Students weren’t told that they were high risk, unless they asked.
Teenagers were taught to better manage their personality traits and individual tendencies, and make better decisions.
Australian researcher Nicola Newton said the “beauty of the program” was that it was very short, effective, hardly mentioned drugs or alcohol, yet it reduced the uptake of both while improving mental health.
Another program – delivered online using cartoons – called Climate Schools was found to be just as effective as Preventure at halving binge drinking compared with existing drug and education units in the year 8 curriculum. It is suitable for all students (not only those at risk) and was developed by Associate Professor Newton with UNSW’s Professor Maree Teesson.
The number of teenagers binge drinking would be reduced by 250,000 a year if either of these programs was introduced into schools, said Professor Newton, who is the director of prevention research at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use.
In a study comparing Preventure with Climate Schools, researchers tracked the drinking behaviour of 2190 year 8 students at 26 public and private schools for three years, according to two research papers in Psychological Medicine and the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
In the past, most school-based prevention programs had minimal effects on reducing alcohol or drug use, or improving mental health, they argued.
Both the universally available Climate School and the targeted Preventure program halved the uptake of drinking and the incidence of binge drinking. Yet delivering the two programs together had no added benefit.
In another trial by Professor Conrod, Preventure decreased illicit drug taking by 80 per cent and improved mental health.
– Julie Power