This is Your Brain on Drugs

The well-meaning “This is your brain on drugs” anti-drug commercial was the butt of countless comedians, was widely ridiculed by its intended audience, and was found to be totally ineffective.

Unfortunately, the more recent anti-drug media campaign equating buying illegal drugs with financing anti-American terrorists was found to be just as ineffective.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the government’s anti-drug media campaigns. Although well intentioned, they don’t work and are a waste of money and effort. That’s why Congress has proposed slashing funding for the failed efforts. 1

Given the consistent failure of these programs, it’s incredible that anyone would call for a national anti-alcohol media campaign. But many powerful groups have done just that. 2

There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that an anti-alcohol mass media campaign would be effective although the anti-drug media campaigns have all been failures.

Instead of using the same old mass media scare tactics, the government should implement social norm marketing campaigns.

Social norms marketing is based on the fact that most young people falsely believe that most other young people drink much more and more often than they really do. Consequently, they tend to drink more, and more often than they would otherwise in an effort to “fit in.”

When credible surveys demonstrate the reality and correct the widespread inflated beliefs, the imagined social pressure drops and both drinking and heavy drinking drop. Study after study has demonstrated the effectiveness of this technique.

The federal government has a golden opportunity to reduce the abuse of alcohol among young people by implementing social norms marketing campaigns.


  • 1. Teinowitz, I. Anti-drug ads face deep cut. Advertising Age, 9-8-03.
  • 2. They include The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and the American Medical Association (AMA). See, for example, Center for Science in the Public Interest. Statement by George A. Hacker, Director, Alcohol Policies Project, Center for Science in the Public Interest on The National Academy of Sciences’ Report to Congress on Underage Drinking. Washington, DC: CSPI, 9-10-03. George Hacker and CSPI have called for “a hard-hitting national campaign that would give parents and youth the facts about the massive harm alcohol causes young people each year.”