A specific intervention conducted in schools can help reduce the likelihood that at-risk youths will drink alcohol or engage in binge drinking behavior, according to a new study.

The study, conducted in the United Kingdom, specifically identified children with risk-taking personalities and tailored interventions towards these kids.

The research may help address a growing problem: substance abuse among minors. The previous decade has witnessed a two-fold increase in both alcohol consumption and intoxication by adolescents age 12 to 17 in the U.K. In a 2009 survey in the United States, 37 percent of 8th graders and 72 percent of 12th graders reported they had tried alcohol, and 15 percent of 8th graders and 44 percent of 12th graders reported they drank during the past month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Personality-based interventions such as the ones used in this study could "allow schools to implement early prevention strategies with youth most at risk for developing future alcohol-related problems and provide the potential for follow-up of the neediest individuals," said the researchers in a statement.

Alcohol intervention

Dr. Patricia Conrod, of King's College London in the U.K., and colleagues evaluated 2,506 adolescents, whose average age was 13.7, using a questionnaire. The 23-item survey assessed personality risk for substance abuse based on four traits: sensation-seeking, impulsivity, anxiety-sensitivity and hopelessness.

Of the 1,159 students identified by researchers as being at high risk for substance abuse, 624 received intervention and a control high risk group of 384 received no intervention.

School based interventions consisted of two 90-minute group sessions conducted by a trained educational professional. The interventions included exercises that discussed thoughts, emotions and behaviors in a personality-specific way. For example, the exercises identified situations that might trigger the children to have thoughts about sensation seeking. The children were also encouraged to challenge thoughts that might lead to problematic behaviors, including substance abuse.

It works

Although the trial was designed to evaluate mental health symptoms, academic achievement and substance use over a 2 year period, the authors have focused their findings on changes in drinking and binge-drinking rates after six months.

Those in the control group were 1.7 times more likely to report alcohol use than those in the intervention group.

Receiving an intervention also predicted significantly lower binge-drinking rates in students who reported alcohol use before the study. There was a 55 percent decreased risk of binge-drinking among students in the intervention group compared with students in the control group.

The trial is the first to evaluate the success of the personality-targeted interventions as delivered by teachers, according to the researchers. The findings at six months suggest that this approach may provide a sustainable school-base prevention program for youth at risk for substance abuse.

The results are published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.