School based programs have long been, and remain, a key component of efforts to reduce alcohol harm in young people, and there is reason to believe that the effort is paying off.


Underage drinking has been decreasing. The latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey1 and the Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drug Survey2 both indicate that underage drinking has fallen sharply. Between 2002 and 2011, drinking in the past week fell by more than half for 12 to 15 year olds (from 29% to 11%) and nearly as dramatically for 16 to 17 year olds (48% to 33%).

While most underage young people either don't drink or only drink small amounts (it's estimated that less than 1 in 7 (13.9%) Central Coast 12 to 17 year olds would have had a drink containing any alcohol in the last week2), youth alcohol related harm remains prevalent. Alarmingly, young people 15-17 years are second only to 18 to 24 year olds for emergency department presentations for alcohol related injury.3

There is a subset of young risky drinkers who engage in high intensity drinking episodes and expose themselves to alcohol related harm. About 13.4% of 16 to 17 year old NSW students report consuming four or more drinks on at least one occasion in the last week.2 Older teenagers are even more likely to engage in risky drinking. A 2016 National Drug Research Institute study found that 20-25% of 16 to 19 year olds drank at least 7 to 11 standard drinks in a single session at least twice per month. This large minority represents the heaviest drinking older teens. Their drinking behaviour is dangerous by any scale and 86% of this group report having already experienced a serious consequence from drinking.4

Trying to reduce alcohol consumption by young people can be very challenging. There are many forces at play including high availability and affordability, advertising in mass media and social media, sport sponsorship, adult role modelling, the current Australian drinking culture, and the innate drive of young people to take risks and adopt a behaviour they may see as adult.

Harm minimisation, on which our national alcohol and drug policies are based, recognises that despite the efforts of educators, policy makers, law enforcers and others, some underage people will still use and be harmed by alcohol.5 An appropriate aim is to reduce the frequency and severity of the harm.

School based alcohol harm reduction programs

Central Coast Local Health District programs to reduce alcohol harm in young people

P.A.R.T.Y Program (Preventing Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) - Full day guided school excursion to emergency medical facilities

Alcohol and School Functions

Alcohol Free Entertainment


School based alcohol harm reduction programs 

The old days - Early programs included simple risk education approaches (put simply – if young people know the risks they'll change their behaviour), and affective self-esteem and refusal skill approaches (put simple – young people lack skills and confidence to resist peer pressure). These approaches did not achieve great success as stand-alone methods.6

Today's school programs - Modern sophisticated programs are solidly based in the evidence for what is known to work. To learn more about the evidence go to this great summary on the SHAHRP website. It can be used as a guide to assess the quality of other drug and alcohol education resources.

Importantly, effective programs recognise that young people are subjected to many influences. In particular social norms theory and media literacy are critical elements.

'Social norms' is a social-psychological approach that challenges the young person's perceptions about what constitutes 'normal' behaviour in relation to alcohol and people their age. It is common for young people to assume that the behaviours that stick out in people's minds are representative of the majority and therefore normal. This false belief can be a driver for young people to adhere to what they think is the norm.7

'Media literacy' refers to the skills and knowledge needed to analyse and evaluate media. "Learning how advertising shapes our way of thinking is a powerful tool for countering the deceptive messages in advertising and empowering people to make better, more informed decisions. Media literacy equips young people with skills to consciously question messages that they are exposed to. Teaching young people how alcohol advertisers use words and images to imply that alcohol is the solution to their problems helps them make decisions that are good for them, not just for the advertisers. For example, they can critically evaluate the implied promise that drinking will make them more attractive, popular and successful; messages that adolescents (and adults) currently see – and many believe – in alcohol advertising." Prof. Sandra Jones, Australian Catholic University's Centre for Health and Social Research. 8

Media literacy education fits beautifully into Stage 5 of the NSW PDHPE syllabus – Strand 3, Individual and Community Health, Outcome 5.6 –
"Students learn about;marketing strategies and the media influences on alcohol use and binge drinking".
"Students learn to - investigate marketing strategies and media influences associated with tobacco and alcohol"9

Some of the great evidence based school based programs available today include;

Itcouldn't happen to me school program It couldn't happen to me (Stages 4 and 5) - This NSW Department of Education and Communities resource is available free to all schools. It will assist teachers to design teaching and learning programs that encourage students to establish and maintain healthy lifestyles free of problems associated with alcohol use. The It couldn't happen to me website provides research, information, ideas and strategies for teachers to help students explore alcohol related issues. Teachers can select a range of classroom strategies and lesson ideas to help students become advocates for their own and others' health.

SHAHRP Project graphic and link

SHAHRP - School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project (Stages 4 and 5) – Developed by Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), the program is aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm and risky consumption. The SHAHRP longitudinal study assessed the behavioural impact of the program and demonstrated a statistically significant impact on alcohol use, risky alcohol use, and exposure to alcohol-related harms. It is implemented in two stages one year apart. SHAHRP is designed to be implemented at a time when local prevalence data indicates that young people are starting to experiment with alcohol. The SHAHRP longitudinal study followed a group of students who were 13 years old for stage one of the program. The SHAHRP teacher manual and student workbooks are available free to download, or attractive hard copies of the student workbook can be ordered from the SHAHRP website.

Teacher training prior to implementing each stage of the program is highly recommended. There are many teacher educators around Australia skilled in providing training sessions on the SHAHRP materials. A list of contacts is available here.


Climate Schools (Stage 4) – Developed by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of NSW, the Climate Schools program includes an 'Alcohol' module for Year 8 and an 'Alcohol and Cannabis' module for Years 8 or 9. It's an engaging on-line cartoon based program with downloadable materials.

There is a fee for schools to participate. Free trials are available.

Game On graphic and link

Game On (Stage 5) – Developed by the Catholic Education Commission, Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology, University of Queensland and Murdoch University.

Game On: Know Alcohol is a six module intervention that combines social marketing with education and aims to change student attitudes toward binge drinking. The program is a fun, interactive resource that combines a series of online and offline experiential activities to engage students. The program aims to increase awareness and knowledge surrounding binge drinking, and promote drinking in moderation. Teachers can register to access lesson plans and a full instructional kit at no cost. The program can be delivered by teachers themselves, or the Game On:Know Alcohol team can deliver the program (subject to a fee). Contact via the program website to find out more.


Crossroads graphic and link

Crossroads (Stage 6) – Developed by the NSW Department of Education and Communities in consultation with a large number of stakeholders including the Association of Independent Schools NSW and the Catholic Education Commission.

Crossroads is designed to help senior students address issues of health, safety and wellbeing, including alcohol related harm.  Crossroads is a mandatory program for students in Years 11 and/or 12 in NSW government schools and is also available to NSW Catholic and Independent Schools. Check out the program website to find out more.

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Central Coast Local Health District programs to reduce alcohol harm in young people 

Interventions to reduce alcohol related harm in young people can be defined by whether they aim to reduce demand or supply. School based education programs, alcohol-free events, pricing policies (e.g. tax on alcoholic drinks) and restricting advertising, all focus on decreasing demand. The Local Health District's Health Promotion Service (LHD) supports efforts to reduce demand by focussing on reducing supply. Restricting supply has been shown through local ground breaking work in tobacco control to be a very effective component in an overall strategy to reduce underage consumption.10

Previous alcohol harm reduction interventions on the Central Coast including 'Supply Means Supply' and 'Most People Don't' have focussed on secondary supply by adults i.e. being given the alcohol by a parent or other adult, while our current intervention, 'Alcohol Sales to Minors' , focuses on retail supply.

For a summary of the law in relation to alcohol supply to a minor see the Liquor & Gaming NSW Fact Sheet.

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P.A.R.T.Y Program (Preventing Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) 

P.A.R.T.Y Program graphic and link The P.A.R.T.Y program is an innovative in-hospital trauma injury prevention program aimed at young people between the ages of 15 and 25. The Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) Trauma Service has been conducting the program since September 2013 and has recently offered it to schools on the Central Coast.

The P.A.R.T.Y. Program has been run on 3 occasions at Gosford Hospital. Click here to see a Central Coast Express news item

The program allows students to see first-hand the consequences of risk- taking behaviours in everyday life. The full day in-hospital excursion is for senior students and is offered to the school at no cost.

Image of Central Coast students at the P.A.R.T.Y program in action

On each program day the students will:

  • Hear from doctors, nurses, allied health staff and emergency service personnel (police, paramedics, fire and rescue) on the harsh reality of poor choices.
  • Spend time in interactive hands-on sessions in the Emergency Department, Intensive Care and Rehabilitation Units to understand how it would feel to be a trauma patient and live with a severe injury or permanent disability.
  • Meet with an injury survivor who shares their story on how their life has changed and what it is like to have a severe life changing disability
  • Hear the story of a trauma patient recovering from their injuries on the trauma ward as a result of risk related behaviors.
  • Contact details - Maura Desmond, P.A.R.T.Y. Coordinator Trauma Service,
    Royal North Shore Hospital St Leonards, Sydney, NSW 2065
    Phone 9463 2213 mobile 0450027768

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    Alcohol and School Functions  

    It is well established that increased exposure to alcohol-related activity in childhood negatively impacts on alcohol-related attitudes and behaviours in adulthood.11

    'Normalising' and 'role modelling' are key factors that shape behaviour, particularly amongst children. Casual exposure to alcohol at school events generates a strong 'normalising' effect, and the observation/awareness of adults drinking alcohol generates a negative 'role-modelling' effect.

    The consumption of alcohol at a school function that students are in attendance contravenes the NSW Department of Education Drugs in Schools Policy.12 Section 1.4.2 of the NSW Department of Education Drugs in Schools Policy states: "The consumption of alcohol is not permitted at any school function (including those conducted outside school premises) at any time when school students, from any school, are present. A school function is any function organised by the school and/or in the name of the school and applies to all types of functions including dances, farewells, sporting fixtures and barbeques".

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    Alcohol Free Entertainment

    If teens know that an event is totally alcohol free it both adds to the credibility of alcohol harm education and reduces the pressure that some teens might be feeling that they need to drink to be normal, or of some parents who think they need to be introducing their teens to alcohol.

    Respected drug educator and author Paul Dillon wrote in his blog (Doing Drugs with Paul Dillon) in June 2014 "…I certainly support any school that breathalyses students as they arrive at a school formal. Why should a school be expected to supervise young people who have been drinking any amount of alcohol? There are just too many risks involved…"

    The CCLHD Health Promotion Service provides breathalysers free to schools and other organisations conducting alcohol free events for teens. The presence of a breathalyser is a strong deterrent to teens taking the risk of not being detected, and a solid message that the school does not tolerate underage drinking.

    Call the Health Promotion Service on 43209700 to book a breathalyser.

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    1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013. Drug statistics series no. 28. Cat. no. PHE 183. Canberra: AIHW
    2. Australian secondary school students' use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the counter and illicit substances in 2011. Drug Strategy Branch Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.
    3. Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence. HealthStats NSW. Sydney: NSW Ministry of Health. Available at: . Accessed 14/11/2016.
    4. Lam T, Lenton S, Ogeil R, Burns L, Aiken A, Chikritzhs T, Gilmore W, Lloyd B, Wilson J, Lubman D, Mattick R, Allsop S. Most recent risky drinking session with Australian teenagers. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Published online 24 October 2016. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12598
    5. Munro, G. & Midford, R. (2001) '"Zero tolerance" and drug education in Australian schools'. Drug and Alcohol Review, 20(1),105-109.
    6. Midford, R., Munro, G., McBride, N. & Ladzinski, U. (2002) 'Principles that underpin effective school-based drug education'. Journal of Drug Education, 32(4), 363-386.
    7. 'A Brief Summary of Social Norms Theory and the Approach to Promoting Health', H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York. Available on-line at Accessed Nov 4, 2016
    8. Accessed 15/11/2016
    9. Accessed 15/11/2016
    10. Tutt D1, Bauer L, Difranza J. 'Restricting the retail supply of tobacco to minors'. J Public Health Policy. 2009 Apr;30(1):68-82. doi: 10.1057/jphp.2008.44.
    11. Quine, S., Stephenson, J., Predicting smoking and drinking intentions and behaviour of pre-adolescents: The influence of parents, siblings and peers. Family Systems Medicine 8: 191-201, 1990
    12. Department of Education: Drugs in Schools Policy. Accessed Nov 9th 2016.

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