QMYOU Alumni Magazine Issue 82 - Page 13

They described a culture of drinking to get drunk as normal and where ending up in A&E after an evening of binge drinking could be viewed as a badge of honour. Dialogue enabled very honest discussions about teenage attitudes and behaviours. It allowed people to start expressing feelings and thoughts about drinking usually not voiced, even in the friendship groups. Attitudes began to shift.” Emma continued: “At sessions, people really opened up. Some individuals admitted that they didn’t think that their friends who get very drunk, are sick and pass out are actually funny. Although they’d never said it before, they admitted to viewing these people as annoying attention seekers. “Being able to share credible, honest opinions like this in a safe environment is very empowering for young people – that’s why they like dialogue and why it works.” They express real views, are listened to and learn from each other. It’s very different from their normal conversations which focus on teenagers posturing about how great it is to get drunk, with others keeping quiet if they disagree.” The research team created diverse groups to become AlcoLOLs in their own schools. Emma explained: “By encouraging peers 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, and to almost step outside themselves. The impact of doing this is astonishing.” One pupil who took part in an AlcoLOLs session said: “It never occurred to me that I could choose not to drink. I would get drunk, act up and be the centre of attention. I thought I needed to entertain. But now I know I don’t have to do that.” Some participants said they felt awkward socially and so alcohol was used to give them confidence to mix with others. Through dialogue, they learned that alcohol shouldn’t be the central component used to make friends. The project shows them how they can use dialogue to talk to people and make new friends without needing to drink first. Dr Magda Pieczka led the project with Emma Wood. Magda said: “We have worked in six high schools in Edinburgh for three years. It became clear that young people embraced this opportunity to take control of their understanding of the issue of alcohol with great enthusiasm and maturity. Many of our AlcoLOLs felt changed by their dialogic journey and that motivates them to help others. There was a strong feeling of altruism and responsibility to their peers.” By harnessing the collective power of young people, the AlcoLOLs project has reached over 2000 pupils across six Edinburgh schools. The project continued to develop with the technique being used to great effect with students during the first week of Freshers at University, another stage of transition normally associated with high levels of alcohol consumption. Professor Alan Gilloran, Deputy Principal of QMU, said: “17.5% of all deaths in the 16 – 24 age group in Scotland are estimated to be caused by attributable alcohol conditions. Our alcohol culture is a major issue for our health, safety, economy and our country’s reputation. With the correct funding in place, the AlcoLOLs project has the potential to be rolled out to other areas of Scotland to help tackle Scotland’s drinking culture and improve health outcomes for future generations.” ❒ An evaluation of the project, funded by The Robertson Trust, will be available in Spring 2016. The team is looking for ways to expand the project so that young people all over Scotland can benefit. QMYOU / Creativity and Culture 13