Over 13,000 students, including pupils from eight secondary schools across Co. Mayo, have to date participated in Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme (JC AEP) which was the subject of the three-year longitudinal study carried out by Maynooth University.

The 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 in particular its primary prevention goal to delay the age of first drink. 

The programme involves 8-10 lessons delivered on a weekly/fortnightly basis by the trained teacher and to date 134 schools have undertaken the programme including St Joseph’s Secondary School, Foxford, St Brendan’s College, Belmullet, Davitt College, Castlebar, Ballyhaunis Community School, Coláiste Mhuire, Tourmakeady, Coláiste Pobail, Achill, Scoil Mhuire agus Pádraig, Swinford, and Jesus and Mary Secondary School, Gortnor Abbey, Crossmolina.

350+ students from 19 schools across the country took part in the evaluation that was conducted over the three-year period (2018 – 2020).

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Sheena Horgan the CEO OF Drink Aware has been speaking to Midwest News Editor Teresa O'Malley about the latest findings...