Why “Just Say No” May Not Work with Kids and Addiction

Why “Just Say No” May Not Work with Kids and Addiction

“Just Say No” was an advertising campaign that was popular in the 1980s and 90s as a way to discourage kids and teens from using recreational drugs. It was created and promoted by First Lady Nancy Reagan during her husband’s presidency.

The “Just Say No” campaign increased public awareness of drug use, but there is no hard evidence that the campaign actually worked. That said, the use and abuse of recreational drugs did decrease during the Reagan presidency. However, it’s believed that this was a coincidence

Nevertheless, drug prevention programs like D.A.R.E. have been implemented in as many as 75 percent of our nation’s school districts. Unfortunately, a bulk of evidence shows that these programs are ineffective. 

Let’s break down the reasons why “Just Say No” doesn’t work and approaches that may offer better results. 

Substance Abuse Prevention Programs are Common – But Do They Work? 

In traditional D.A.R.E programs, police officers come to schools to discuss the dangers of substance abuse and the potential need for outpatient drug rehab in Phoenix. A lot of the matter is based on the presumption that peer pressure leads kids to drug and alcohol use. Of course, we know that there are many ways that addictions start beyond traditional peer pressure. 

In 2009, researchers did a meta-analysis on 20 studies about teen drug trends. What they discovered was that students who participated in substance abuse prevention programs like D.A.R.E. were just as likely to use drugs as those who did not participate. In fact, some of the studies found that kids in D.A.R.E. are actually more likely to drink and smoke cigarettes. 

There are many theories about why “Just Say No” is ineffective. Some experts say that these programs are built on scare tactics rather than practical, real life skills. A better alternative is to build programs based on practicing social skills, role playing and learning ways to say no. This way, kids don’t have to feel like oddballs in social situations. 

Why “Just Say No” Isn’t Enough 

Preventing substance abuse in kids and teens isn’t easy. Experimentation, pushing boundaries, peer pressure, etc. are all common during young adulthood. So how can we break through the barriers and actually make a difference in keeping kids and teens away from substances? To do this, we first must recognize what isn’t working with our current programs. 

  • They’re not long enough. D.A.R.E. programs typically only last for a few months, when really, they need to last for years. These lessons must be reinforced over time and match the different environments that kids are in. Saying no to alcohol at 12 is going to look very different than at 17. 
  • They don’t practice ways to say no. Drug prevention programs typically teach kids to refuse drugs and avoid substance abuse treatment in Phoenix. But they don’t teach ways to say no or offer advice on how to handle uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations. 
  • They lack social skills training. Practicing ways to say no is just as important as saying no. Kids and teens are developing interpersonal skills, so not all are sure how to handle peer pressure. Direct social interaction is helpful for this reason. 
  • They’re led by adults. Another aspect that hurts these programs is that they are mostly led by adults and not kids and peer leaders. Incorporating relatable situations and including kids in the lessons will have more of an impact. 

happy teenage girl

Ways to Improve Drug Prevention Strategies 

To build stronger drug prevention programs, they must include these three strategies: social resistance skills training, normative education and competence enhancement skills training. 

  • Social skills training. With social resistance skills training, kids and teens learn how to recognize situations where they may be confronted by peer pressure. They also learn how to avoid and respond to these situations. 
  • Normative education. This type of education focuses on high-risk youth who are more likely to abuse substances and require long stays in alcohol rehab in Phoenix. For these kids, substance abuse is sometimes the norm. 
  • Competence enhancement skills training. This training is helpful for kids who have poor social skills and engage in high-risk behaviors. Young people can learn essential life skills and build on the qualities they already possess. 

Are There Alternatives to Just Say No? 

D.A.R.E. has evolved over the years to adapt to the changing trends in substance abuse. But it’s still largely ineffective at keeping kids off drugs and alcohol long term. And schools aren’t willing to drop the D.A.R.E. program without an alternative in place. 

One possible alternative is PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience or PROSPER. Rather than having a zero-tolerance perspective, PROSPER focuses on building strong, resilient families. Resilience is shown to be a key factor in preventing mental health and substance use disorders. 

A few other alternatives that school districts can consider are:

  • Across Ages pairs older adults with young teens to strengthen bonds and provide opportunities for community involvement.
  • CASASTART is a community-based program that builds resiliency in kids and families and makes neighborhoods safer. 
  • Class Action is an alcohol prevention curriculum that reduces alcohol use and binge drinking among high school students. 
  • DARE to be You aims to help at-risk kids who are between the ages of 2-5. 
  • Families and Schools Together, or FAST, builds protective factors for kids and families to reduce their risk for substance abuse. FAST targets young children between the ages of 4-12. 

Final Thoughts 

“Just Say No” campaigns have certainly drawn attention to recreational drug use in our country. However, kids and teens need more than zero-tolerance policies and scare tactics to prevent them from turning to drugs and alcohol. 

It’s also important to remember that not all addictions start off from peer pressure. People who have lost loved ones to overdose often point out that they wish they would have known the signs of prescription drug use, mental health problems and harm reduction strategies like Naloxone. These, too, can be critical parts of a well-rounded drug prevention program. 

In the end, programs like D.A.R.E. mean well but aren’t entirely effective. It’s important to be aware of the limitations of these programs so that we can fill in the gaps and practice more useful tactics like social skills training, role playing and education.