Teaching Kids About Drugs: Alternatives to DARE
25 February 2018
February 18, 2018
I remember the D.A.R.E. logo being plastered on posters hung in the hallways at school. At one point, I owned an oversized black shirt with the acronym in big red letters. I went to an assembly where a police officer told us some scary statistics about alcohol and drugs and gave us tips on how to “Just Say No.” I just said no for a while, and then I became an alcoholic.
Turns out, I’m not an outlier amongst D.A.R.E. participants. Beginning in the late 1990s studies uncovered disheartening realities that D.A.R.E. had no effect—at all—on whether or not students would go on to use or misuse drugs and alcohol in the future. After nearly 20 years of implementing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in schools, long term studies were being published with damning data that proved its ineffectiveness.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology stated that “DARE status in the sixth grade was negatively related to self-esteem at age 20, indicating that individuals who were exposed to DARE in the sixth grade had lower levels of self-esteem 10 years later.” Some evidence even points to a higher risk of substance misuse for students who went through D.A.R.E. programs.
The program pushes a zero-tolerance agenda. Police officers talk to a class of students for about an hour once a week for 10 weeks. Courses are too short to teach behavioral techniques. The police officers teach students that all mind-altering substances are bad and that all kinds of drugs are equally bad. Apparently, getting high on meth is just as awful as drinking a beer while underage. They have long considered marijuana to be a gateway drug, which is objectively false, and are vocal opponents of legalization measures.
Despite the criticisms, it is still part of school curriculums in and outside of the United States. Many schools that deserted D.A.R.E. when its popularity waned have begun to bring it back into their classrooms. Vox reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at a D.A.R.E. conference and told the attendees, “We know it worked before, and we can make it work again.”
Any program predicated on the idea that people need to “just say no” causes the opposite effect. High risk groups tend to be encouraged to participate in the forbidden behavior. Scaring kids into avoiding drugs is also ineffective because scare tactics don’t work. It can increase curiosity in people who have not tried drugs and cravings in people who use drugs. A 2014 study published in School Psychology Quarterly found that scare tactics may be correlated with lower exam scores.
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