4th National Alcohol and Drug Education Conference 2023 speaker slides and workshops

On the 21st June The AET and DSM Foundation held the 4th National Alcohol and Drug Education conference, kindly hosted by Newcastle University.  The full programme can be viewed  here

Helena Conibear, CEO of the Alcohol Education Trust and conference moderator explained why a conference on alcohol and drug education was needed, The 4th we have held as The Alcohol Education Trust and the second in partnership with the DSM Foundation.

  • 1 in 5  pupils (18%)  have ever and 18.6% young adults aged16 to 24 years reported last year drug use (end June 2022) – 5% of those class A
  • 13% of 11 year olds have had a whole alcoholic drink rising to 65% of 15 year olds.
  • According to ASH vaping prevalence has increased by 50% in one year from one in 13 to one in 9 teenagers with 4 in 5 say they have seen vapes promoted and advertised.
  • Of the130,500 adults in treatment, 51% are there for opiates, then alcohol (28% ).Cannabis saw a (5% increase to 27,304)  ketamine problems (saw a 27% rise in one year).
  • Of the 11,326 under 18’s in treatment, 88% are there predominantly for cannabis and its derivatives, followed by alcohol (45%) – 63% were young males.  So there is a change from treatment predominantly for Cannabis and its derivatives for under 18’s ( 88% of those requiring treatment) to opiates in adulthood.

There is a strong link between substance misuse and poor mental health  – 63%, of adults starting treatment said they had a mental health treatment need. Similarly, low well being was much more likely amongst pupils who recently smoked, drank and/or have taken drugs as low levels of life satisfaction were at 57% compared to 18%  for those who have not smoked, drunk or tried drugs.

As regards alcohol and drug use and vulnerable young people we all know the higher risk of  child exploitation and being groomed into county lines. We should also know that children who have endured adverse childhood experience are 11 x more likely to use cannabis and 4 x more likely to binge drink, excluded children are 5 x more likely to have used alcohol or drugs in the last month and early school leavers are 4 x more likely to use cannabis regularly. In terms of under 18 entering treatment services the biggest predictor by far is early onset of use, followed by a mental health treatment need.

Equally importantly however, according to the most recent smoking, drinking and drug use survey, only half of pupils said they received lessons on alcohol (56%), smoking (56%) or drugs (60%) in last year.

Lessons peaked in year 9, and only half of those pupils thought their school gave them enough information about smoking (52%), drinking alcohol (51%) or drug use (48%). Meaning half  of children are not sufficiently prepared for the challenges and choices they will face around alcohol and drugs

So although we believe there has been much improvement in RSHE provision and content around alcohol and other substances over the last decade, there is still much to be done  – and we hope the conference – and our further work with you going forward as specialist drug and alcohol education charities will help continue to improve outcomes for young people.

It was very pertinent that the conference was held in the North East, which has the worst alcohol and drug statistics across England.  According to PH, 47% of adults drink above the “low risk” guidelines, the NE has the highest rate of alcohol deaths, deaths from liver disease and alcohol related NHS hospital admissions in England.



Professor Chris Day Pro Vice Chancellor of Newcastle University opened the conference. Professor Day was a hepatologist ( liver specialist), so is very well placed to understand the health impacts of alcohol and drugs. He spoke of the importance to the University of ensuring students are given support and guidance around alcohol and drugs.


Joy Allen,  is Joint lead for drugs and alcohol (nationally) for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and is dedicated to developing strong partnerships to reduce substance, alcohol and gambling issues, which are closely linked to crime and reoffending. She believes a mix of education, employment, leisure and training activities are needed to support schools to reduce school exclusions so that children stay in school education and out of the criminal justice system. This is key to reducing substance misuse among young people . She is instrumental in building partnerships across the North East and Nationally to help implement  the 10 year Drug  strategy from Harm to Hope.

Kirsty Blenkins from the Addiction and Inclusion Directorate, Office for Health Inequalities and Disparities and Alice Taylor, Senior Digital Product Manager at DHSC

Kirsty Blenkins specialises in young people’s substance misuse provision, prevention and specialist provision for under 18-year-olds.  As a Programme Manager at the NTA, PHE and OHID, Kirsty co-produces toolkits, good practice guidance and resources to aid commissioning and evaluation of children and young people services. She contributes to the reducing demand section of the drug strategy with Universities UK student drug project, drug, and alcohol impact board (SOS), and leads content on FRANK advice and information website.

Alice Taylor looks after the Talk to Frank website, from feature development and user insight, to ensuring the site remains an honest and authentic source of information about the effects and risks of drugs. Alice joined the Department in 2021 and has spent the last decade in digital content and behaviour change marketing.

David Regis is Research Manager for the Schools Health Education Unit and looks after half of the local authority surveys in schools conducted each year, from questionnaire design to reports for schools and councils – having joined SHEU in 1986 there is no one more knowledgeable on trends in childrens’ health and wellbeing. He is also responsible for the analysis of the Unit’s databanks, which form the basis of the “Young People into…” series of reports.

Kath Woods Townsend  is a research scientist with a PhD in Human Genetics, but is also a secondary school teacher. Kath is programme manager for Life Lab, shaping the development of the education programmes and leading the randomized controlled trials of the life lab science approach that tackles diet, weight and exercise with children. Life Lab, commissioned by Southampton Public Health and others are building a programme on vaping.

Julie McCann has an MSc in Education and NPQH, as a teacher, curriculum leader, senior leader and Advanced Skills Teacher in PSHE education she could not be better placed to understand the problems and solutions faced in the classroom when delivering drug and alcohol education. Julie has developed successful training and support in all areas of PSHE education for primary, secondary and special school colleagues. She was a member of the PSHE Association Advisory Council, as well as working in partnership with Babcock to deliver the National PSHE CPD Programme, which I could not recommend more highly.

Fiona Spargo-Mabbs is the Founder of the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, set up in response to the tragic death of her 16-year-old son Daniel having taken ecstasy/MDMA. Fiona  is an award-winning author of books for parents looking at what she wished she had known… Her passionate commitment to do all she can to prevent what happened to her son happening to anyone else drives everything she does. An important part of that crusade is making parents and carers more aware of and prepared for the pressures, challenges and unexpected situations they may face with teenagers as they encounter alcohol and drugs in their lives


Sally Ingram MBE is Director of Student Health and Wellbeing at Newcastle University with more than 20 years’ experience, leading wellbeing services in higher education, statutory and charitable sectors. As well as managing a very skilled team at Newcastle University providing health and wellbeing support, she is co-chair of Newcastle University’s Alcohol and Drugs Working Group, where she’s helped to establish the  Student Drug Policy: Reducing Harm. This is a cross-agency working group to educate, safeguard and support students on alcohol and substance use

Kay Hattam is the Wellbeing and Support Coordinator at Newcastle University Students’ Union (NUSU). Based in the Welfare and Support Centre, a digital and physical space for students to visit with any welfare concerns they may have, NUSU take a harm reduction approach to drug and alcohol use and Kay has supported this work from the early stages and continues to champion a non-judgemental and supportive approach.

Preparing sixth formers for transition to college/university is key. A modest survey conducted by ourselves and the DSM Foundation found that lower 6th students were most concerned about money worries and keeping up with work, whereas on questioning 2nd Year students, they found the biggest challenges faced were loneliness and pressure to take drugs or drink more than they wished.


Marianne Head is Prevention Officer for the Prevention Programme, a Home Office funded programme at The Children’s Society.The programme improves responses and aims to prevent exploitation and abuse of children by joining up services, communication and collaboration across regions and sectors, aiming to empower change at community level. The  aim being to ensure children are better protected and every victim supported. The Children’s Society also run the #LookCloser campaign, in partnership with British Transport Police and National County Lines Coordination Centre which empowers us to spot and report signs of child exploitation.

Katya Kowalska, Volteface and Ashly Fuller, PhD student, UCL

Ashly Fuller is a researcher at the Jill Dando Institute for Security and Crime Science and at the Dawes Centre for Future Crime at UCL.. Her PhD investigates the emergence of illicit drug advertisements and sale on social media, specifically its impacts on young people.

Katya Kowalski is a drug policy expert and Head of Operations at Volteface, a drug policy think tank. With  a BSc in Psychology and MSc in Health Psychology, she has a deep interest in the complex relationship between drug use and mental health. 



Soraya Williams – Alcohol Education Trust Manager – London and South East

Soraya was a police officer with the Metropolitan Police for many years, setting up the first Domestic Violence Unit in Belgravia and then serving as a Safer Schools Officer, working with Secondary and Special Needs schools, tasked to create positive lines of communication with young people, the school community and local police. Soraya is trained and experienced in Restorative Justice and Community Resolution. She has also worked in a multi-agency safeguarding capacity in Public Protection, Troubled Families, Youth Offending and Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub (Mash). Bringing a wealth of skills to the AET.

Kathryn Arnott-Gent, Alcohol Education Trust Manager – North

Kathryn studied Social Care (Children & Families)and is a qualified teacher and lecturer. She was formerly Youth Offending Team Officer for Manchester Youth Offending Service, working with young people who were at risk of offending, or first time offenders. She also set up and project managed the Appropriate Adult Scheme,Restorative Justice and Mentoring projects.Kathryn continues to lecture on a part time basis,delivering short courses in Mental Health,Substance Misuse and Well being in the community to students in recovery from addiction and to
volunteers and staff working with the recovering community. Kathryn has been with the Alcohol Education Trust since October 2014 and during this time has built up wonderful partnerships across the North of England that improve outcomes for young people across the region.

Jacqueline Greenlees, Lead Drug Educator, DSM Foundation

Jacqueline is an experienced teacher who was Head of PSHE and Wellbeing prior to joining the DSM Foundation. Predominantly she has worked in inner city schools with experience of the public, state and independent sector. She enjoys working with children with complex emotional and behavioural needs and is passionate about ensuring every child achieves their potential, whatever that may be.
Currently, she is completing an MSc in Psychology.

Asha Fowells, Drug Educator, DSM Foundation

Asha Fowells has been a drugs educator at the DSM Foundation since 2018, and recently took on an additional position as media manager for the drugs education charity. These roles reflect her background as a pharmacist – she qualified in 1998 – and journalist and writer. Asha is involved in the whole breadth of delivery, from students to parents, school staff and other professionals working with young people. She also does a lot of work behind the scenes at the Foundation, including dealing with press enquiries, writing resources, and mentoring  other members of the team. Asha is passionate about the aims of the DSM Foundation, which is to help young people make safer choices about drugs – everyone should be able to get home safely.

Gillian Collier, We Are With You

Gillian began working in a male homeless hostel in2005 with people experiencing substance misuse,mental health and housing issues, moving on to aprison setting for the NHS working on an integrateddrug treatment system and delivering interventionsand groups to inmates. She made the transition intothe community in 2009, working with adults usingdrugs and alcohol in the Redcar and Cleveland area,before making the jump to working with young peoplewith substance misuse issues in 2017. Gillian is nowthe child criminal exploitation lead for the region.She brings a wealth of lived experience to this role,and a passion for working with young people,supporting them to reduce harm, helping build theirknowledge through education, and providing a safe,supportive and friendly face to speak to.