I subscribe to a newsletter called ‘The Mental Elf’ which you can access here. It showcases all the most up-to-date and important and reliable mental health research and guidance available.
The latest newsletter featured a link to a piece of research looking at motivational interviewing for young people who misuse alcohol by Sarah Chapman who runs the Evidently Cochrane blog
This is what she wrote:
A popular technique for counselling young adults who drink too much alcohol is motivational interviewing (MI). It is a non-confrontational approach to helping people overcome their uncertainties and change their behaviour by highlighting the negative consequences of drinking and supporting the person in making changes.
This has now been evaluated in a new Cochrane review, which brings together 66 trials with over 17,000 people aged 25 and under, many at high risk of alcohol problems. In 49 studies, people attended just one individual session; the rest ran group sessions or a mixture of both. They were followed up after four months or longer.
- People who had MI had about 1.5 fewer drinks per week than those not counselled (12.2 drinks compared with 13.7)
- Number of drinking days per week was 2.57 days compared with 2.74 days
- People having MI had slightly lower maximum blood alcohol levels but their average blood alcohol levels didn’t change
- MI had no effect on alcohol-related problems, binge drinking, drink-driving and other risky behaviours related to alcohol
Lead researcher David Foxcroft, from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK, commented that:
“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.”
How good is the evidence?
As so often, there remain unanswered questions. The studies took place in a variety of settings, including universities, prisons and healthcare centres and David Foxcroft points out that:
“There may be certain groups of young adults for whom motivational interviewing is more successful in preventing alcohol-related problems, but we need to see larger trials in these groups to be able to make any firm conclusions.”
The studies varied in quality and overall the evidence was judged to be of low to moderate quality, so results are likely to change with future research. Let’s hope future studies overcome some of the problems noted in many contributing to this review, including failing to follow up many of the participants, poor reporting and not hiding which group people were allocated to. The reviewers also urge that reporting of programme content and context should be more detailed and systematic to enable comparison of these aspects across studies.
How well are our schools helping teenagers make healthy choices about drinking and other behaviours that influence health? I’ll be looking at this next in a ‘back to school’ feature on the Evidently Cochrane blog with Cochrane evidence on health-promoting schools.
So although MI is a valuable approach within the adult setting this is not the case for adolescents. Which begs the question if MI isn’t then what is? I look forward to seeing the results of her next blog to see if education within schools might be the answer! 🙂