The impact of peers in relation to alcohol use in adolescence: investigating social influences to inform a peer-led school-based intervention


The use of alcohol by young people can have detrimental impacts on health and wellbeing over the short- and long-term, and drinking from a young age increases the likelihood that an individual will have drinking problems later in life. Levels of binge drinking and drunkenness by young people in the UK are among the highest in Europe.

A number of factors influence the nature of alcohol use by young people, including family, genetic and wider environmental contexts. In particular, the activities and behaviours of friends and peers can influence patterns of drinking during adolescence. For instance, the greater the number of friends who drink, and the more alcohol that they drink, the more likely it is that a young person will drink themselves at a young age.

A small number of studies suggest that harnessing the impact of peers may be helpful in reducing smoking or sexual risk behaviour but there is little evidence of such an approach for alcohol use. While studies show that school-based programmes to prevent harmful alcohol use may be effective, findings are mixed so it is difficult to identify the particular aspects of projects that are the most effective. As such, research is needed to identify new programmes that successfully prevent harms arising from alcohol use in adolescence. The peer-led programme to prevent smoking, ASSIST, (developed by researchers at the Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, and Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics, Cardiff University), offers a potentially effect and novel approach to prevent harmful alcohol use.


  • To use a range of methods to examine the extent to which peer and social influences affect alcohol use behaviour in young people, how such influences may be mediated, and how they may interact with other impacts on adolescent alcohol use.
  • To use findings from the above research studies to design and develop a school-based programme, modelled on ASSIST, that harnesses the impacts of peers to prevent harmful alcohol use in young people.
  • To implement the programme in one school to test acceptability and feasibility of the novel school-based programme.

Study design:

  • Systematic review of evidence relating to programmes that harness the impact of peers for the prevention of tobacco, alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Social network analysis to map the association between characteristics of social networks and the initiation and frequency of drinking by young people.
  • Qualitative research to explore young people’s views around the impact of peers, friends, and perceived social norms on drinking patterns and the risks and harms of alcohol use from early through to late adolescence. Additional investigation of young people’s views around particular preventive messages or school programmes that have been perceived as effective.
  • Engagement with young people to obtain their views around the design and delivery of a peer-led intervention to prevent harmful alcohol use during adolescence.

Further information and publications:

 Dates: Jan 2014 - Nov 2017

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