Brief alcohol intervention for risky drinking in young people aged 14–15 years in secondary schools: The SIPS JR-HIGH RCT


Background: Adverse effects from young people’s alcohol consumption manifest in a range of physical and psychosocial factors, including neurological issues, cognitive impairment and risk-taking behaviours. The SIPS JR-HIGH pilot trial showed alcohol screening and brief intervention (ASBI) to be acceptable to young people and schools in the north-east of England.

Objectives: To conduct a two-arm, individually randomised controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of ASBI for risky drinking in young people aged 14–15 years in the school setting, to monitor the fidelity of ASBI and to explore the barriers to, and facilitators of, implementation with staff, young people and parents.

Design: A baseline survey with a 12-month follow-up. Interviews with 30 school staff, 21 learning mentors and nine teachers, and 33 young people and two parents.

Setting: Thirty state schools in four areas of England: north-east, north-west, Kent and London.

Participants: Year 10 school pupils who consented to the study (aged 14–15 years, recruited between November 2015 and June 2016), school-based staff and parents of the young people who took part in the study.

Interventions: Young people who screened positively on a single alcohol screening question and consented were randomised to the intervention or control arm (blinded). The intervention was a 30-minute one-to-one structured brief intervention with a trained learning mentor and an alcohol leaflet. The control group received a healthy lifestyle leaflet (no alcohol information).

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was total alcohol consumed in the last 28 days. Secondary outcomes related to risky drinking, general psychological health, sexual risk-taking, energy drink consumption, age of first smoking, quality of life, quality-adjusted life-years, service utilisation and demographic information.

Results: A total of 4523 young people completed the baseline survey, with 1064 screening positively (24%) and 443 being eligible to take part in the trial. Of those 443, 233 (53%) were randomised to the control arm and 210 were randomised to the intervention arm. Of the 443, 374 (84%) were successfully followed up at 12 months (intervention, n = 178; control, n = 196). The results were that the intervention showed no evidence of benefit for any alcohol-related measure when compared with the control arm. At 12 months we found a reduction from 61.9% to 43.3% using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test cut-off point of 8 and cut-off point of 4 (69.0% to 60.7%). These results were not significant. A cost-effectiveness analysis showed that the average net cost saving of the brief intervention was £2865 (95% confidence interval –£11,272 to £2707) per year compared with usual practice, with the intervention showing a 76% probability of being cost saving compared with usual practice. The interview findings showed that school was an acceptable setting to carry out ASBI among staff and young people.

Limitations: Recruitment of parents to take part in interviews was poor. Only 18 ASBI sessions were recorded, making it difficult to assess internal validity.

Conclusions: Although the intervention was ineffective in reducing risky drinking in young people aged 14–15 years, it was well received by the young people and school staff who participated.

Future work: Uniform reporting of the outcomes used for ASBI would generate more robust conclusions on the effectiveness of ASBI in the future. Pilot feasibility studies should include more than one geographical area. Future work on involving parents is needed.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN45691494.

Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research programme and will be published in full in Public Health Research; Vol. 7, No. 9. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

Public Health Research 2019; 7(9)