Effectiveness of DARE
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
Since its beginning in 1983, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program has grown rapidly from a local endeavor in a single school district into a multi-million dollar industry. It has been used in about 80% of all US school districts and more than 56 other countries.
The basic DARE program consists of a series of lectures delivered to schoolchildren by police officers over a 17-week period. In the US alone, over 50,000 police officers have been trained to teach the course and over 36,000,000 students have “graduated” from DARE.
DARE is very popular with students, school administrators, police, and the general public. This, in spite of the fact that research over the decades has repeatedly demonstrated that DARE is not only ineffective, but also sometimes counterproductive. That is, students who graduate from DARE are sometimes more likely than others to drink or do drugs.
There are probably many reasons for the remarkable ineffectiveness of the DARE program. For example, it is based on out-dated theories of learning and human behavior, it fails to distinguish between legal substances and illegal drugs, it views all use (even by adults) as abuse, and it presents a view of substance use inconsistent with that most students see in their own environment.
Unfortunately, many people have a vested interest in seeing DARE continue and expand in spite of its ineffectiveness and even harm to students. About 750 million dollars are spent on the program each year and thousands upon thousands of police officers are assigned to teaching the program. Thus, although DARE is a disaster for students, it is a great success for those profiting from promoting and teaching it.
DARE leaders defend the program largely on the basis of anecdotal evidence such as “students tell me it works.” They also dismiss impartial university research conducted carefully over long periods of time with many students by objective scholars. Instead, they present “satisfaction surveys, ” testimonials of celebrities and similar irrelevant so-called evidence.
Although DARE is a dismal failure, there is good news. The social norms marketing technique has repeatedly been found effective in reducing both the consumption and the abuse of alcohol. Most students incorrectly believe that more of their peers consume and abuse alcohol than is the actual case. Therefore, they tend to conform in order to "fit in." When a credible survey of a student body is conducted and then the surprising results widely promoted, student drinking drops dramatically as students discover the truth. The technique is easy and inexpensive to implement and the effects occur quickly. And it has been found effective in reducing smoking and illegal drug use as well.
There is no absolutely justification whatsoever for using the ineffective DARE program when a proven, successful alternative is available. Our young people deserve nothing less.