Psychosocial and Developmental Alcohol Misuse Prevention in Schools can be effective

We conducted a Cochrane systematic review of 53 well-designed experimental studies that examined the effectiveness of school-based universal programs for the prevention of alcohol misuse in young people. The studies were divided into two major groups based on the nature of the prevention program: 1) programs targeting specifically prevention or reduction of alcohol misuse and 2) generic programs with wider focus for prevention (e.g., other drug use/abuse, antisocial behavior). In the review we found studies that showed no effects of the preventive program, as well as studies that demonstrated statistically significant effects. There was no easily discernible pattern in program characteristics that would distinguish studies with positive results from those with no effects. Most commonly observed positive effects across programs were for drunkenness and binge drinking. In conclusion, current evidence suggests that certain generic psychosocial and developmental prevention programs can be effective and could be considered as policy and practice options. These include the Life Skills Training Program, the Unplugged program, and the Good Behaviour Game.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review identified studies that showed no effects of preventive interventions, as well as studies that demonstrated statistically significant effects. There was no easily discernible pattern in characteristics that would distinguish trials with positive results from those with no effects. Most commonly observed positive effects across programs were for drunkenness and binge drinking. Current evidence suggests that certain generic psychosocial and developmental prevention programs can be effective and could be considered as policy and practice options. These include the Life Skills Training Program, the Unplugged program, and the Good Behaviour Game. A stronger focus of future research on intervention program content and delivery context is warranted.

 

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Background: 

Alcohol misuse in young people is cause of concern for health services, policy makers, prevention workers, criminal justice system, youth workers, teachers, parents. This is one of three reviews examining the effectiveness of (1) school-based, (2) family-based, and (3) multi-component prevention programs.

Objectives: 

To review evidence on the effectiveness of universal school-based prevention programs in preventing alcohol misuse in school-aged children up to 18 years of age.

Search strategy: 

Relevant evidence (up to 2002) was selected from the previous Cochrane review. Later studies, to July 2010, were identified from MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE, Project CORK, and PsycINFO.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized trials evaluating universal school-based prevention programs and reporting outcomes for alcohol use in students 18 years of age or younger were included. Two reviewers screened titles/abstracts and full text of identified records.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers extracted relevant data independently using an a priori defined extraction form. Risk of bias was assessed.

Main results: 

53 trials were included, most of which were cluster-randomised. The reporting quality of trials was poor, only 3.8% of them reporting adequate method of randomisation and program allocation concealment. Incomplete data was adequately addressed in 23% of the trials. Due to extensive heterogeneity across interventions, populations, and outcomes, the results were summarized only qualitatively.

Six of the 11 trials evaluating alcohol-specific interventions showed some evidence of effectiveness compared to a standard curriculum. In 14 of the 39 trials evaluating generic interventions, the program interventions demonstrated significantly greater reductions in alcohol use either through a main or subgroup effect. Gender, baseline alcohol use, and ethnicity modified the effects of interventions. Results from the remaining 3 trials with interventions targeting cannabis, alcohol, and/or tobacco were inconsistent.

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