Dare to Drop D.A.R.E & Replace It with an Effective Program

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Although the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program is very popular, it is completely ineffective and sometimes even counterproductive -- worse than doing nothing. That’s the conclusion of the congressional General Accounting Office (GAO), the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Department of Education. The federal government prohibits schools from spending their Safe and Drug Free Schools funding on DARE.

The social norms marketing technique has repeatedly proven effective in reducing the use and abuse of alcohol among young people. It’s based on the fact that the vast majority of young people greatly exaggerate in their minds the quantity and frequency of drinking among their peers. Therefore, they tend to drink -- or drink more -- than they would otherwise, in an effort to “fit in.”

When credible surveys demonstrate the actual, much lower drinking rates, and the results are widely publicized or “marketed” to this group, the imagined social pressure drops ands o does youthful drinking. Study after study demonstrates that the technique works with both alcohol and drugs.

And if that weren’t enough, the social norms marketing technique costs very little to implement. On the other hand, the DARE program costs local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

It’s time to implement the effective social norms marketing technique to reduce underage drinking and substance abuse. Our young people deserve nothing less.

More about Drug Abuse Resistance Education

One researcher has pointed out that

“Ultimately... the key test of D.A.R.E. is not popularity, but effectiveness. And as early as 1994 when analysts from the Research Triangle Institute published their findings, the word was out: On the measure of stemming teenage drug use, D.A.R.E. didn't work. Children who went through D.A.R.E. were no more likely to "say no" as adolescents than their uninstructed counterparts. (Ironically, exposure to D.A.R.E. may have increased children's curiosity about some of the drugs.) Individual communities, like Detroit, that did their own rigorous assessments came to the same conclusion. School districts intent on stemming drug use were getting nothing from D.A.R.E., beyond the delusion that they were "doing something" about drugs.

“Understandably, D.A.R.E.'s initial reaction to the academicians - criticism was to criticize the academicians - and publicize their own positive reports, although those reports generally made academicians shudder. For example, one study demonstrated that 5th-graders exposed to D.A.R.E. knew more about the consequences of drug use than non-exposed 5th graders. Of course they did: D.A.R.E. made that part of the curriculum. Another retort held that "if D.A.R.E. detoured just one child...." communities should support it. Yet if a drug worked 1 percent of the time, the Food and Drug Administration would pull it off the market. Still other retorts touted the popularity of the program, or its self-esteem message, or children's contact with police officers. 1

An analysis of the popular program reported that “D.A.R.E.'s official response to this growing body of research is disdain for science. "Scientists tell you that bumblebees can't fly, but we know better," declared D.A.R.E. Executive Director Glenn Levant upon release of the (first) government-sponsored report that D.A.R.E. doesn't work The local D.A.R.E. officers we talked to also claim that the anecdotal evidence is convincing that D.A.R.E. is working extremely well, citing the warm reception they have received by schools and parents.” 2

A reporter investigated why the program doesn’t work and discovered some surprising facts. He first interviewed psychologist William Hansen. Dr. Hansen, whose research formed the basis for DARE, said the program is based on an anti-drug model he had begun to develop years ago. Over ten years later, DARE was still using the exact same model, even though he himself had scrapped it as one of many unsuccessful attempts to develop a workable anti-drug program for schools."DARE was misguided as soon as they adopted our material, because we were off base," Dr. Hansen. told him. 3

The famous psychologist Dr. William Colson, who helped develop theories underlying Dr. Hansen’s model, told the reporter that "DARE is rooted in trash psychology." Colson said that "We developed the theories that DARE was founded on, and we were wrong.” Pioneering psychologist Dr. Abraham, who worked with Colson, later wrote that their theories were wrong. Dr. Ellen Maslow, Abraham Maslow's daughter has called DARE "nonsense." 4

Dr. Richard H. Blum, who has conducted extensive research drug education, emphasizes to the reporter that “we have found again and again that drug education in schools causes kids to take on drugs and alcohol sooner than they would without the education." Dr. Colson explains that "as they get a little older, they become very curious about these drugs they've learned about from police officers.” 5

Another observer points out that

“One study after another has found that DARE, the nation's most popular substance abuse prevention program, does not actually prevent substance abuse. Yet DARE (a.k.a. Drug Abuse Resistance Education) claims it is constantly revising its curriculum, so any research indicating that it doesn't work is immediately outdated. And with a few exceptions, school districts always seem willing to give DARE another chance.” 6

However, many people are no longer gullible. The mayor of Salt Lake City stresses that
For too long our drug-prevention policies have been driven by mindless adherence to a wasteful, ineffective, feel-good program.” 7 He says DARE is “a complete waste of money, a fraud on the American people” and that “we should put our resources behind a program that works.” 8

It’s important to remember that DARE is expensive in terms of both money and time. Every hour devoted to DARE is an hour lost to math, reading, or even to an effective abuse prevention program.


References and Readings

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