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Young alcohol abusers not helped by counselling says new research

Published:  22 August, 2014

Counselling young people with drinking problems has limited results, according to new academic research.

Young drinkers not always helped by counselllingYoung problem drinkers not affected by counsellingNew study reveals motivational counselling has limited benefit

Counselling young people with drinking problems has limited results, according to new academic research.

Researchers for the Cochrane Library found that counselling based on motivating young people to change their drinking behaviour has limited effects and does substantially reduce drinking or alter alcohol-related behaviour.

The Cochrane Library has been conducting research in to the most effective way to help address problem drinking amongst young people which it estimates sees around 320,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 29 die as a result of alcohol misuse around the world each year. Most of these deaths are due to car accidents, murders, suicides or drowning related to heavy drinking.

Motivational interviewing is a counselling technique developed in the 1980s that is sometimes offered to people with alcohol problems. It aims to help them change their behaviour by highlighting the negative consequences of drinking.

But based on research that looked at 66 trials involving 17,901 young people aged 25 and under it found that in 49 if those trials, people only attended one session. In the others, they attended group sessions or a mixture of group and individual sessions.

U25s not helped by motivational counselling techniques

Four months on the research found that participants who underwent counselling "had only slightly reduced the amount they drank and how often they drank compared with people who were untreated".

It found that: "Motivational interviewing had no effect on alcohol-related problems, binge drinking, drink-driving and other risky behaviours related to alcohol."

The research added: "On average participants who had counselling had about one and a half fewer drinks per week compared to those who had no counselling (12.2 drinks compared with 13.7). The effect of counselling on the number of drinking days was also very small: 2.57 days per week (compared to 2.74 in untreated people)."

David Foxcroft, lead researcher based at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK, said: "The results suggest that for young people who misuse alcohol there is no substantial, meaningful benefit of motivational interviewing. The effects we saw were probably too small to be of relevance to policy or practice."

The young people involved in trials included university and college students, army recruits, prisoners and young people attending healthcare centres, youth centres and job centres. "There may be certain groups of young adults for whom motivational interviewing is more successful in preventing alcohol-related problems," said Foxcroft. "But we need to see larger trials in these groups to be able to make any firm conclusions."