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Does D.A.R.E. Increase Drug Use?

Emmanuel Daniels
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D.A.R.E, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a widely recognized program aimed at preventing drug abuse and promoting positive decision-making among school-aged children. Initially developed in Los Angeles in 1983, it quickly gained prominence and became a prominent component of drug prevention efforts across the United States and in various countries globally.

The program primarily operates within schools, often involving police officers or specially trained educators who deliver a structured curriculum to students, typically in elementary through high school grades. D.A.R.E’s fundamental goal is to equip young individuals with the skills to resist peer pressure, make informed choices, and navigate situations involving drugs, violence, and other risky behaviors.

Its curriculum covers a range of topics beyond just drug abuse, encompassing self-esteem, peer pressure, bullying, communication skills, and stress management. The program typically includes interactive lessons, role-playing scenarios, discussions, and written assignments to engage students actively.

The central tenet of D.A.R.E’s approach is promoting resilience and critical thinking in students, empowering them to resist experimentation with drugs and alcohol. It emphasizes assertiveness, decision-making, and refusal skills, teaching youngsters to recognize and respond appropriately to situations that involve substance use or other harmful activities.

While the program initially received widespread support and was implemented in numerous schools, its effectiveness has been a subject of debate. Research on D.A.R.E’s impact has yielded mixed results. Some studies have suggested that the program’s impact on reducing drug use is limited, prompting questions about its long-term effectiveness and the methodologies used to assess its outcomes.

Critics argue that the program’s emphasis on scare tactics and simplistic messages might not effectively address the complex factors that contribute to drug abuse among young people. Additionally, the practice of involving law enforcement officers in classrooms to deliver drug prevention education has raised concerns about the potential for unintended consequences, including negative perceptions of law enforcement among certain communities. Over the years, D.A.R.E. has undergone revisions and adaptations to address these criticisms. It has incorporated evidence-based prevention strategies and adjusted its curriculum to encompass broader life skills, mental health awareness, and coping mechanisms to better resonate with contemporary challenges faced by youth.

During a 1983 visit to Longfellow Elementary School in Oakland, California, First Lady Nancy Reagan was asked by a schoolgirl about what to do if she was offered drugs. To which the First Lady said, “Just say no.” This wasn’t Mrs. Reagan’s first rodeo to warn people about the perils of drug abuse. But the media got up on their conversation, and her husband’s war on drugs used the ads.

Even though the war on drugs was a complete and utter bust—unless you happen to be on the drug cartel’s side—Nancy Reagan did her civic duty as First Lady of California by collecting donations for injured and returning Vietnam War veterans. In addition to being instrumental in the establishment of the Foster Grandparents program, she advocated for the allocation of funds to support soldiers who have gone missing or are believed to be still detained as prisoners of war. Throughout it all, she logged over 250,000 miles trying to spread the word about the perils of drug use to youth by visiting schools, rehabilitation clinics, and other countries. Because of her genuine concern and devotion, the programs that emerged in her wake were difficult to condemn, even when they failed to achieve their stated goals.

Within this political climate, DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) came into being a year later when the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles School District chose to tackle drug usage from the demand side, instead of the supply side. The Los Angeles Police Department’s upper management spearheaded the initiative, and a congressional committee that approved DARE’s budget based its approval on preliminary research that demonstrated the program’s efficacy. In addition, the committee’s report revealed that students in fifth and sixth grade frequently possessed a more advanced comprehension of drugs compared to their instructors. The study also discovered that law enforcement officials would be better able to teach the curriculum and discourage kids from using drugs because they dealt with their impacts daily.

The DARE program, which had a seventeen-week duration and promised a decrease in drug usage, vandalism, and violence, was not implemented in the United States. Fifth through ninth graders receive 45 to 60 minutes of instruction from a police officer every week. In addition to providing strategies to boost self-esteem, train students to say “no” to unwelcome advances, and increase their overall assertiveness, the program recommended that instructors include the content in their normal curricula. It also provided them with accurate data regarding the effects of different chemicals on the human body. The program’s contentious side effect is that it encourages youth to notify DARE officers of any drug use they witness at school or home.

Whatever the case may be, the program is consistent nationwide. In an ideal world, all students would interpret the same information in the same manner, leading to consistent results. But, as one would assume, there is a great deal of variation across the United States in terms of pupils, settings, income, and local cultures. The program’s creators intended that these variations would be insignificant. Having said that, it does. Quite a bit.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education Act received its first financing of fifteen million dollars from the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which was designated by the Secretary of Education in the original statute. In a brief disagreement with the committee’s conclusions regarding the program, two House Republicans, Tom Petri and Bill Goodling, stated:

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program has been a powerful tool in many communities to help young people resist the temptation to take drugs, and we are proud to join our colleagues in expressing our support and encouragement for this important work. We are concerned about the method in H.R. 5064 that would fund DARE, even though we are in favor of using DARE overall. To help fund the creation of DARE programs at the local level, H.R. 5064 proposes to set aside funds from the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act appropriation. We do not think it is wise to set aside money for a drug treatment program at a time when there are so many good drug misuse programs available. Further, local school officials will have less money to utilize in any way they see fit to address the unique needs of their students as a result of such a reservation.

With a master’s degree in English and experience as a teacher, Goodling had the credentials to back up his claims. In addition to his time in the legislature, Representative Gooding was president of a local school board. Even when he went to Congress, he carried that knowledge with him. On the other hand, no one paid attention to this one.

To highlight the key point, as mentioned, DARE has operating funds that are not contingent on the success of the program, in contrast to other programs that are required to demonstrate their efficacy through data and peer review. Those who disagree mainly believe that national lawmakers, who may have good intentions, are more influenced by the desire to look good than by any genuine concern for the welfare of the children or the community as a whole when making such decisions.

Researchers naturally started to wonder, “What does DARE do?” shortly after the law was passed, given all this. And whether it achieved any of its stated objectives.

The replication crisis is a real problem in science, particularly in the social sciences. When the underlying population is drastically varied or diversified, it might be challenging to get studies on a particular issue to agree, even under ideal conditions. If one researcher discovers that a certain strategy works, but another researcher finds that it doesn’t, this situation is known as the replication crisis. The fact that conclusive evidence requires a substantial investment of time and resources over a wide sample contributes to the problem.

D.A.R.E represents a multifaceted educational initiative designed to equip young individuals with the tools to make informed and healthy decisions, particularly in resisting drug use and other harmful behaviors. While its impact remains a subject of ongoing evaluation and debate, it remains a prominent component of drug prevention efforts in many communities.


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