“Keepin’ It REAL”: DARE’s Effectiveness (Facts Everyone Should Know)

The Drug Resistance Abuse Resistance (DARE) program is a very popular one. Teachers love it because police officers, not they, teach it. Administrators love it because it shows that they’re “doing something” about alcohol and drugs. Police love it because it beats boring patrols and night shifts. Students love it because it’s more interesting than learning math. Parents love it because the school is taking responsibility for alcohol and drug education. But what is DARE’s effectiveness?


I.   DARE’s Effectiveness

II.  A Continuing Pattern

III. Resources

Perhaps the only people who don’t love it are researchers. They’ve studied DARE’s effectiveness. Actually, its ineffectiveness.

I. DARE’s Effectiveness

The DARE corporation now admits that its earlier programs were ineffective and even counterproductive. Because of its ineffectiveness the federal government refused to provide funding. Therefore, DARE adopted a new curriculum called “Take Charge of Your Life.” For four years, the DARE website extolled the virtues of the new course. But suddenly……silence. The new program was largely counterproductive. Students who took the course were more likely to use than those who didn’t.

keepin’ it REAL

This led to the search for a new program. DARE found one with promise. Michael Hecht of Penn State had developed and evaluated the keepin’ it REAL course in 2003. The results were encouraging. So DARE accepted and then modified the program.

Hecht then started a company he calls REAL Prevention. He owns the license to keepin’ it REAL. So the more DARE franchises there are, the more money he gets.

DARE claims that its use of keepin’ it REAL is proven to be effective. That is simply untrue. First, it has changed the original course that was promising. Second, it uses it on students in different grades than originally used. Third, the evidence of effectiveness is very mixed at best. Some research reports that it is counterproductive.

For example, research that Hecht co-authored found serious evidence of ineffectiveness. The study looked at the effects for students in the fifth and seventh grades. They found the course was as ineffective as its competitors. Much worse, fifth grade students who had the course were more likely to use drugs than those who hadn’t.

Hecht co-authored another study reporting no evidence of lower alcohol or drug use. It did find increased “preventative factors.” That’s such things as “increased responsible decision making knowledge.” Nevertheless, the authors concluded that the keepin’ it REAL course has “promise.”

Of course, independent researchers also repeatedly report that keepin’ it REAL is either ineffective or counterproductive.

II. A Continuing Pattern

DARE's effectivenessSince its founding in 1983, DARE has insisted that its current program is effective. When researchers point out that it’s ineffective, the corporation has a standard reply. It’s that the researchers studied an older version of its current program. The current program is always effective.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grades the “readiness for dissemination” of programs. Unfortunately, keepin’ it REAL gets only a 1.5 out of 4.

Theodore Caputi at Penn State’s Wharton School makes an important observation about DARE’s modified keepin’ it REAL.

[T]he new D.A.R.E. program appears to be “the default” program [used by school districts] because of its brand-name recognition. Unfortunately, that recognition is not correlated with positive results.1

Fortunately, there are many Alternatives to the Failed Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program.

III. Resources on DARE’s Effectiveness

Day, L., et alA test of keepin’ it REAL. Addict Behav, 2017, 74, 67-73.

The Effectiveness of DARE.

Elek, E., et alEffects of the keepin’ it Real. J. Drug Ed., 2010, 40(1), 61-79.

Marsiglia, F., et al. Effects of keepin’ it REAL on substance use. Prev Sci, 2011, 12(1), 48-62.

Shepard III, E. The Economic Costs of D.A.R.E. Inst Indust Rel, Res paper 22 , 2001. Back in 2001, Dr. Shepard estimated the total economic costs the program at 1 to 1.3 billion dollars. Or at $175 to $270 per student. The costs would be much higher today.