Drug prevention programs are counter-productive
Published: Friday, September 21, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 21, 2012 07:09
These days it seems like substance abuse is everywhere. It’s not uncommon to attend a party that has not only alcohol, but marijuana and a variety of other drugs, too.
Heading out to the clubs? It’s likely someone there has taken a hit of "molly"–a psychoactive drug that is similar to ecstasy. Even in the libraries, dorms, homes and apartments, Adderall is abused for those cram sessions before exams.
These drugs are prevalent not just at West Virginia University, but on campuses everywhere. But what makes the lure of drugs so strong for students? You can thank your childhood health classes.
Beginning in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, then-first lady Nancy Reagan attempted to eradicate drug abuse by creating and implementing the "Just Say No" campaign, a catchall phrase that applied not just to drugs but to cigarettes, alcohol, premarital sex and whatever other terrible things a middle schooler’s mind could imagine. The goal was essentially to nip the issue of substance abuse in the bud by encouraging elementary and middle school-aged students to "just say no."
The campaign was adopted by many U.S. schools in the hopes of restraining the "wicked ways" of children, and studies have shown that drug abuse did decline in the ‘80s – though there is no significant evidence that the Just Say No campaign was directly involved in this decrease. This contributed to the creation of more anti-drug programs, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (more commonly referred to as DARE), which was focused on adolescents and taught by police officers. But in the ‘90s, a federally-funded annual Monitoring the Future survey revealed that higher amounts of young people were using drugs – basically, the effectiveness of the Just Say No and DARE campaigns had worn off.
Why did these programs backfire? Because the "Just Say No" campaign was too simple. Students grow up being bossed around by their parents and teachers enough as it is, and the "because I said so" attitude of the Just Say No and DARE programs was bad enough to produce the opposite of the desired effect. Furthermore, these campaigns revealed a forbidden fruit. Whether it’s alcohol, sex, drugs or cigarettes, by telling adolescents what they can’t do, an equal-but-opposite effect occurs: these same individuals, who are entering a period of growth defined by rebellion, angst, and independence, will do whatever it is they’re told they shouldn’t do.
And now that these same students are in college, where the availability of the forbidden fruit is high and the overbearing authority figures low, drug and alcohol abuse has become a major issue on campus.
Some may be inclined to think that our country is doomed to become one big, drunken drug cartel, but that’s not necessarily true. Because, cliché as it is, knowledge is power and that’s exactly what we’ve been keeping from our health classes. By instead giving students the whole picture of why people take drugs or drink alcohol (namely for the sake of fun or to cope with reality) and then informing them about the consequences of these decisions – addiction, disease and death – students get the full, unsugarcoated story and the facts to be able to make their own, informed decision at an age when that is what they want to do the most.
So the next time drugs are being passed around at a party, a student knows the pros and cons of the choice, not just the consequences.
Humans are naturally curious, and simplistic approaches and slogans that leave out the reasons why people use these substances in the first place only makes us want to find out for ourselves.
So for every student here who’s driven a friend to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, or has known someone who has died from a drug overdose, remember what inadvertently encouraged these people from the start.
Remember that you were once an impressionable kid who sat in a health class and were told to simply ignore any temptation that came your way without knowing specifically why you were saying no in the first place. But most of all, remember this when you’re a parent: that children are smart enough to make their own decisions, as long as they’re given all the facts.
And keeping knowledge away from the youth of our country? To that, I just say "no."