BACKGROUND: Although social environments may influence alcohol-related behaviours in youth, the relationship between neighbourhood socioeconomic context and effectiveness of school-based prevention against underage drinking has been insufficiently investigated. We study whether the social environment affects the impact of a new school-based prevention programme on alcohol use among European students.

METHODS: During the school year 2004-2005, 7079 students 12-14 years of age from 143 schools in nine European centres participated in this cluster randomised controlled trial. Schools were randomly assigned to either control or a 12-session standardized curriculum based on the comprehensive social influence model. Randomisation was blocked within socioeconomic levels of the school environment. Alcohol use and alcohol-related problem behaviours were investigated through a self-completed anonymous questionnaire at baseline and 18 months thereafter. Data were analysed using multilevel models, separately by socioeconomic level.

RESULTS: At baseline, adolescents in schools of low socioeconomic level were more likely to report problem drinking than other students. Participation in the programme was associated in this group with a decreased odds of reporting episodes of drunkenness (OR=0.60, 95% CI=0.44-0.83), intention to get drunk (OR=0.60, 95% CI=0.45-0.79), and marginally alcohol-related problem behaviours (OR=0.70, 95% CI=0.46-1.06). No significant programme's effects emerged for students in schools of medium or high socioeconomic level. Effects on frequency of alcohol consumption were also stronger among students in disadvantaged schools, although the estimates did not attain statistical significance in any subgroup.

CONCLUSIONS: It is plausible that comprehensive social influence programmes have a more favourable effect on problematic drinking among students in underprivileged social environments. 

Numerous studies have shown that alcohol intake causes neuropsychological disorders that affect various brain structures. The <> hypothesis proposes that the brain areas of alcoholics undergo deterioration similar to that observed in old age. We investigated whether alcohol abuse by young people (binge drinking) causes alterations comparable to some found in elderly people. Ninety-one people were divided into four groups: a) young people who abused alcohol; b) young people who drank alcohol in moderation; c) young people who did not drink alcohol; and d) elderly adults without any significant cognitive deterioration. All of them were assessed with a neuropsychological battery. We observed some similarities in the results obtained by young drinkers and the elderly participants, which would provide some support for the hypothesis of premature aging. The tasks that young drinkers performed worse were those related to executive functions, in which the prefrontal cortex plays an essential role. We also found differences between the two groups of young drinkers (moderate and high consumption), which leads us to believe that the amount of alcohol consumed and the pattern of consumption are factors to consider in relation to cognitive impairment.

Regulations on the availability of alcohol have been used to moderate alcohol problems in communities throughout the world for thousands of years. In the latter half of the 20th century, quantitative studies of the effects of these regulations on drinking and related problems began in earnest as public health practitioners began to recognize the full extent of the harmful consequences related to drinking. This article briefly outlines the history of this work over four areas, focusing on the minimum legal drinking age, the privatization of alcohol control systems, outlet densities, and hours and days of sale. Some historical background is provided to emphasize the theoretical and empirical roots of this work and to highlight the substantial progress that has been made in each area. In general, this assessment suggests that higher minimum legal drinking ages, greater monopoly controls over alcohol sales, lower outlet numbers and reduced outlet densities, and limited hours and days of sale can effectively reduce alcohol sales, use, and problems. There are, however, substantial gaps in the research literature and a near absence of the quantitative theoretical work needed to direct alcohol-control efforts. Local community responses to alcohol policies are complex and heterogeneous, sometimes reinforcing and sometimes mitigating the effects of availability regulations. Quantitative models of policy effects are essential to accelerate progress toward the formulation and testing of optimal control strategies for the reduction of alcohol problems.

Problematic alcohol consumption is a major public health, health education and health promotion issue in Australia and internationally. In an effort to better understand young people's drinking patterns and motivations we investigated the cultural drivers of drinking in 14-24 year-old Australians. We interviewed 60 young people in the state of Victoria aged 20-24 about their drinking biographies. At the time of interviewing, the draft guidelines on low-risk drinking were released by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia, and we asked our participants what they knew about them and if they thought they would affect their drinking patterns. Their responses indicate that pleasure and sociability are central to young people's drinking cultures which is supported by a range of research. However, O'Malley and Valverde claim that pleasure is silenced and/or deployed strategically in neo-liberal governance discourses about drugs and alcohol such as these guidelines which raises questions about the limits of such discourses to affect changes in drinking patterns.

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