Plants - Drugs Mind - Spirit Freedom - Law Arts - Culture Library  
Against the drug war but not sure what to do about it?
Join Erowid and help spread accurate, independent information.
From: Lamont Granquist
Subject: More on DARE
Date: 13 Nov 1994 09:17:37 GMT
Message-ID: <3a4ljh$>

Here's some other things i've been thinking about with respects to the
DARE program, anti-drug programs, and propoganda in america.


DARE: Deliver Acronyms Rather than Education

As far as i'm concerned this about sums it up.  The DARE program simply
is not *about* eduction, i doubt that anyone could seriously defend the
content of the DARE program in a scientific fashion and i don't feel it
serves any other purpose other than simple indoctrination.  The DARE
program presents a grossly oversimplified and pretty much inaccurate
picture of the causes and cures of drug abuse.  It furthermore is aimed
more at being a "feel good" program for those who are already "straight"
while those who are currently drug users get a substantially different
message, and one that is manifestly counterproductive to the stated
goals of the program.  It comes as no surprise that a recent study in
the American Journal of Public Health found that DARE does not reduce
drug abuse, and in fact my increase the use of marijuana by those who
participate in it.  These seemingly "paradoxical" results have some
very simple explanations.

The Structure of Anti-Drug Propaganda.

The program used by DARE and other "drug prevention" programs does not
address the real causes of drug abuse.  The picture that is most often
presented in these programs is one where an individual confronts a situation
where drugs are offered to them, and the program attempts to give that
person the ability to "Just Say No."  This kind of program ignores the
substantial pre-existing psychology of the person who is being offered the
drugs and tends to take a very "individualistic" approach to the problem
of drug abuse.  If the person takes drugs then they are judged to be
_as an individual_ to have made a bad choice and to be morally inferior.
On the other hand "good" students who do not make the bad choice are
judged to be morally superior.  This fits in quite nicely with an 
individualistic philosophy and rationalizes the continued incarceration and
dehumanization of drug users as being somewho morally inferior.  I
will come to how this picture is simply wrong in a bit, but for now 
lets consider the effect that this has on students in the DARE 
program.  In light of current views on psychology the DARE program should
have very, very different messages to those individuals with low or with
high self-esteem.

Low Self Esteem vs. High Self Esteem

Current perspectives in psychology have determed two salient facts about
people with low vs. high self esteem.  The first is that individuals assess
the causes of their fortunes very differently based on self esteem.  A high
self esteem individual will typically regard a positive experience as having
been caused by themselves, and will take credit for the action.  They will
not, however, take credit for negative experiences.  If they perform badly
on a test, they will find some way to blame the negative outcome on factors
external to themselves, or to focus on their successes and not their
failures.  Low self-esteem individuals, however, do exactly the opposite.
If they are presented with a good outcome they will find some factor in the
environment to blame it on, while claiming that bad outcomes are entirely
their fault and that they bear the full responsibility of the blame.

The second fact is that low self esteem individuals tend to do very poorly
on a second task after intially failing a first one.  Much more so than
high self esteem individuals.  Failure tends to beget more failure when
one has low self esteem.

Self Esteem and DARE

The problem with DARE is largely with its effects on low self-esteem children
who arguably are at the most risk for drug abuse.  Those high in self-esteem
will of course have their perceptions of themselves reinforced.  They are,
arguably, only ever going to wind up as casual drug users, and these
programs will probably prevent this from happening.  However, the message
to the low self-esteem children reinforces their beliefs that if they use
drugs they are taking actions entirely as an individual agent which are
morally reprehensible.  This does *not* "scare them straight" as some might
believe, but instead has the effect of making them fail worse.  Thus
explaning the increased rate of marijuana use among DARE graduates.  There
should also be a predictable effect where DARE graduates are more segregated
into abstainers or heavy users rather than casual users.  There
is nothing in the DARE program which might address the actual causes of
drug abuse, and which might be useful for someone who actually is at risk
for drug abuse.  The DARE program simply _is_not_about_prevention_.

Other Effects

The DARE program presents the users of drugs with a problem of having to
deal with a substantial amount of social alienation and negative labelling.
There are three ways that they can deal with this:

1.  They could abstain.  This would, however, arguably have some negative
    effects on independence and on individual creativity.  Summed up over
    all the other similar social messages which are presented in our
    society ("just say no to homosexuality", "just say no to sex", etc) this
    could wind up being cumulatively quite substantial.

2.  They could continue using, while accepting the negative labelling.  This
    will likely be the route taken by those with low self-esteem and will
    externally appear to be a pattern of self-destructive behavior.  However,
    given no useful psychological counselling it is unlikely that they will
    have a substantial choice in the matter.

3.  They could continue using, while denying the negative label.  This will,
    however, lead to lower respect for authority figures, and still will 
    tend to alienate these people from those who abstain and thereby lead
    to fractures in the social fabric.

Realistic Programs

Many of these predictions have been confirmed by Block and Shelder 
(American Psychologist 45(5):612-30, 1990) who also concluded that:

  "...current efforts at drug prevention are misguided to the extent
   that they focus on symptoms, rather than on the psychological
   syndrome underlying drug abuse."

They found links to drug use which would essentially confirm that
it is correlated with the pre-existing psychology of the adolescent long
before they are ever presented with the opportunity to use drugs.  This
is not a surprise to psychologists.  There has also been growing support
for the theories that drug abuse can be linked to genetic factors and
to neuropsychiatric or *biological* factors in the brain.  It is,
essentially beginning to be viewed more as a medical problem similar to

A program which actually addressed the causes of drug abuse would have
many advantages over DARE and similar programs.  It would be effective
where DARE is simply not effective or counterproductive, and it would not
have the same effects at eroding the credibility of authority figures.
The one feature it would not have, however, is it would not create a core
group of adolescents who were as closed to alternative viewpoints and open
to moralistic propaganda.

The fact that the DARE program is so pervasive in our society, while the
actually effects of DARE go so unquestioned is a sad commentary.  You simply
will not find DARE called "propaganda" anywhere in the mass media, although
it quite clearly surves simply no other purpose.

Lamont Granquist
Q: How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?
N: None!  If it needed fixing, the market would take care of it!