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The vital role of the Alcohol Education Trust

PUBLISHED: 11:12 15 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:12 15 April 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Helena Conibear explains the vital role the Alcohol Education Trust plays in keeping youngsters safe around alcohol

There are few things in our lives as contrary as alcohol – bringer of pleasure, relaxation and conviviality if enjoyed responsibly – yet bringer of misery, illness and death if abused.

There are two different types of harms associated with alcohol – those linked to long term excessive drinking – and secondly, the aspect which receives much less focus from a ‘finding a solution’ point of view, around the short term harms linked to binge drinking. These are mainly due to the loss of inhibitions that getting drunk induces – increasing the risk of accidents, violence and other risk taking. These sometimes devastating effects are overwhelmingly associated with young and inexperienced drinkers – when developing a social life, experimenting and going to parties, festivals or going off to college or university.

I’ve always believed in prevention being better than cure – and that is what the work of The Alcohol Education Trust is all about. We have two simple aims – to push up the age that young people begin drinking in unsupervised settings – at parties and in public places, and to reduce levels of heavy drinking and drunkenness, as well as its social acceptability. Sound easy? Well there are 3.6 million young people in our target 11- 18 year old audience.

We work with teachers, parents, schools, youth and sports clubs to encourage kids to work out for themselves why it makes sense to wait until they are older if they plan to start drinking - at this stage children practice ‘resistance strategies’ so they feel confident saying no. Through role play, rehearsal strategies, games and interactive on line activities – we’ve been able to show that our work is both fun and effective.

Once teenagers do start to drink it’s equally important that they understand about keeping themselves and others safe, and can think through risky situations to work out ‘exit strategies’. It’s crucial they understand the effects of alcohol, both social and physical, as well as how much is too much, alcohol and the law – and the consequences of breaking it, enabling them to make informed choices.

We also work to convince teachers that their role is not one of ‘damage limitation’. After parents, teachers have the most influence on our young people’s lives and by building dialogue and listening to young people’s concerns, values, pressures and worries they can really make a difference and affect decisions around responsible choices.

That leads to the third strand of our work which is encouraging parents and carers in a ‘tough love’ approach - by setting boundaries, knowing where their kids are and who they are with. This is the hardest part of our work by far, engaging with hard to reach parents and ensuring we’re neither nannying or critical – but supportive and helpful.

We don’t know how many young people have got home safely, looked after their mates, or thought about the consequences of their actions and made a better choice because of our programme, but what we know for certain is the younger a child begins drinking regularly the more it affects their life chances – and our job is do everything we can to keep young people safe around alcohol.


Helen Conibear

Dorset born Helena has worked all over the world including California, Cape Town and France. She and her husband Simon returned to Dorset in 1998, to bring up their two children, now 19 and 15. After many years specialising in alcohol health, social and policy issues internationally, Helena became increasingly aware of the lack of a coherent, effective prevention programme for children. So with a group of like-minded teachers, governors, parents and health specialists, Helena established the Alcohol Education Trust in 2009. The charity now supports half a million 11-18 year olds in the UK via 1400 schools and 700 youth and sport organisations, with the Talk About Alcohol programme. Find out more at alcoholeducationtrust.org.


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