National Anti-Drug Campaign Proves Effective

When it comes to substance use, prevention and education is far preferred to the toils of withdrawal and recovery. Among teens, this is especially important. Those who are exposed to drugs during the teen years often begin a long addiction, exposing themselves to the risks associated with those drugs while their brains and bodies are still developing.

Prevention strategies are challenging to create, because many teens can recite the various risks associated with using drugs and still choose to use them. However, a recently developed federal anti-drug campaign seems to have hit a nerve with teens, causing a significant reduction in teen marijuana use since its launch.

The anti-drug campaign “Above the Influence” appears to have made an impact with teens. A study of over 3,000 students in 20 communities across the country showed that the campaign had reduced the number of teens using marijuana. Among students in the 8th grade, 12 percent of those who reported that they had not seen the campaign began using marijuana, compared with only 8 percent among those who were familiar with “Above the Influence.”

The campaign began in 2005, funded with $200 million from the federal government. The results from the initial examination of its effectiveness show it to be money well spent. This is important, give that the predecessor of the program, a campaign called “My Anti-Drug,” showed no success in reducing teen marijuana use, according to Michael Slater, the lead author of the new study. Slater is a professor of communication at Ohio State University.

The campaign’s success, explains Slater, can be traced to its focus on encouraging the desire that teens have for independence and self-sufficiency. Campaigns that seek to educate teens about the risks of drug use tend to be insufficient. Teens don’t tend to be risk-averse, and the few that are influenced by these campaigns are not the teens at risk, but teens that are already risk-averse.

The study, which appears in the March 2011 issue of the journal Prevention Science, was originally designed to examine another similar anti-drug campaign called “Be Under Your Own Influence,” which also focused on the role that drugs play in undermining a teen’s ability to achieve their goals and word towards independence.
The study’s findings are very encouraging, benefiting those who plan prevention and education strategies for teens. The results highlight the importance of tapping into the aspects of drug use that are important to a teen, such as independence and goal-setting, instead of listing risks that may seem distant at that point in life.