A PIONEERING project to tackle the scourge of underage alcohol abuse has led to a major decline in street drinking and police seizures of booze.
Thousands of pupils took part in the AlcoLOLs project, pioneered by Portobello High School, which hopes to transform young people’s attitudes to alcohol by getting them to be more open and honest about drink.
Police said there had been a noticeable reduction in teens “getting leathered” in public parks, while the amount of alcohol seized by police officers in the Portobello High School catchment area slumped from 8-12 litres each weekend in 2012 to between just one and three litres in 2014-5.
Queen Margaret University (QMU) experts decided to tackle the ideas that “popular” people drink and that talking about getting drunk was normal or funny, while non-drinkers kept quiet about their abstinence.
They encouraged teenagers to express how they actually feel about drinking during a series of sessions.
These teens became so-called AlcoLOLs, who would take what they had learned back to school, where they would speak to younger pupils without adult intervention.
Emma Wood, a researcher at QMU’s Centre for Dialogue, said: “By encouraging other teenagers to talk about things in a different way, the AlcoLOLs are able to help young people question certain behaviours and develop a confidence to deal with issues.
“The process of dialogue encourages them to reflect on their own behaviour and thoughts as well as others’.
“They almost step outside themselves and look critically at what happens around them. The impact can be profound.”
One pupil who took part in an AlcoLOLs session said: “I honestly assumed that everyone drank from such a young age. I think that’s what everyone thinks and that’s probably the main reason that people do drink.
“You think everyone else is doing it so you have to do it.”
The impact of the AlcoLOLs work has resulted in positive, changed behaviour within the wider community.
PC Verity Ferry, a community policing officer in Portobello, said: “There’s not as much street drinking, they seem to be doing it in a house where there’s a certain degree of protection instead of getting leathered in Rosefield Park, which used to happen every single weekend.”
Former head teacher of the school, Peigi Macarthur, said: “There were fewer instances of issues impacting on the school which related to alcohol-fuelled situations at weekends and the resultant difficulties with relationships, health and safety.”
The AlcoLOLs project has also been rolled out at Castlebrae High School, Drummond Community High School, Holyrood High School, Leith Academy and Trinity Academy.