A qualitative report on learners' experiences and perceptions of the 'It starts today' intervention
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Adolescent alcohol use has emerged as a significant health problem in South Africa. Recent surveillance statistics in South Africa show that between 17% and 42% of persons admitted to treatment nationally report alcohol as their primary substance of choice (Dada et al., 2015). South African data further indicate that at least 25% of school-going youth have engaged binge drinking and 12% had their first drink before 13 years old (Reddy et al., 2013). This is particularly problematic as early initiation of alcohol use is associated with heightened risk for adult alcohol dependency (Makela & Mustonen, 2000). In response to the problem of underage drinking, the Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (AwARE.org) piloted an early intervention programme that aimed to prevent and interrupt underage drinking amongst school-going youth in two provinces in South Africa. This programme, called 'It starts today', targeted school-going youth residing in two communities in the Free State and Mpumalanga. In both provinces, adolescents make up approximately one fifth of the general population (Free State: 18.5% and Mpumalanga: 19.3%) (Statistics South Africa, 2018). High rates of unemployment have also been reported in the study sites (Statistics South Africa, 2011) and adolescent alcohol misuse use has been identified as problematic in both Free State and Mpumalanga (see Reddy et al., 2011; also
see Dada et al., 2017). Names of the schools and communities have been anonymised in order to protect
the identities of learners and avoid stigmatisation of the schools (including learners and teachers) that participated in the study. School-going youth consisted of primary and secondary school children who
were attending grades 5 to 12 at the time of the study.