The use of scare tactics has been traditional in alcohol education. However, the alcohol education scare approache isn’t very effective. Yet this fact has’t discouraged its use.
But research beginning in the 1930s has found that scare tactics tend to be ineffective and can be counterproductive. In short, people tend to “tune them out.” That’s because they tend to create mental discomfort. And there appear to be many other reasons they tend to be ineffective.1
Fortunately, there are many techniques that are very effective in reducing alcohol abuse. One of the many alternatives to scare tactics is the social norms approach. The social norms approach provides accurate information about usage and consequences. It does that rather than exaggerate the extent of drinking and alcohol abuse.
Students typically hold exaggerated beliefs about how many students really drink, how often they drink, and how much they drink. They tend to believe that “everyone’s doing it” and feel pressure to conform to that undesirable behavior.
Surveys of actual student behavior are made on campus. Then the actual, lower numbers are widely reported or marketed. As a result, people no longer feel the need to live up to some imagined false norm of behavior.
Research has repeatedly shown that the technique is effective. It’s relatively inexpensive to implement. Also, the positive results tend to occur quickly.
Resources for Alcohol Education Scare Tactics
Corner, A. et al. Behaviour Change. London: Routledge, 2017.
Hastings, G. The Sage Handbook of Social Marketing. Los Angeles: Sage, 2014.
Linkenbach, J. How to Use Social Norms Marketing. Bozeman, MOST of US, 2006.
Perkins, H. The Social Norms Approach [handbook]. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
- Brown, S., et al. Defensive responses to an emotiveanti-alcohol message. Psych Health, 2009, 24(5), 517-528.