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Anti-Drug Campaigns: Faces of Meth vs. D.A.R.E.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy, established in 1988, runs the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a propaganda machine created to stop kids from using drugs and controls the money behind anti-drug ad campaigns like “My Anti-Drug” and “Above the Influence.” When anti-drug campaign ads say don’t do drugs, it’s almost like saying “should I do drugs?” The ads can draw attention to a gap in what the viewer knows about drugs, piquing their curiosity.

In a 2008 study, participants who were primed with anti-drug PSAs were more curious about using drugs than those that hadn’t seen the PSAs. It found that, because anti-drug campaign ads made the viewer think more about drugs, it could also lead them to believe drug use is more prevalent than it really is. “These results should be seriously considered, as it has been consistently recognized in psychological research that curiosity is one of the most potent motivational forces for human behavior,” the study’s paper warned.

Faces of Meth Anti-Drug Campaign

According to new research by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, The Meth Project’s graphic ads are effective at deterring meth use. The new study, “How Disgust Enhances the Effect of Fear Appeals,” compared ads that rely on disgust and fear with ads that use fear alone as the deterring element. Researchers showed a series of three anti-drug campaign ads to a group of college students. Each of the ads had an identical message, but the images were different. The three categories — fear and disgust, was represented by an actual Meth Project ad depicting a teen with open sores on his face; fear-only, was represented by the image of a coffin; and neutral, was represented by two teens sitting side by side. Those that relied only on an element of fear did not lead to immediate changes in attitudes or behaviors towards illicit drug use. However, the study says ads by the Meth Project, that incorporated elements of disgust such as rotting teeth, skin sores or infections, did compel viewers to “undertake distancing behaviors,” such as deciding not to use illegal drugs. According to the study, the Meth Project ad, with its graphic depiction of addiction, was the only ad that affected viewers’ future intention to use illegal drugs.

D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Anti-Drug Campaign

Also written DARE, this anti-drug campaign was established in 1983 and involved police officers going into elementary schools to educate children about the dangers of illicit drug use and gang violence. There has been much research regarding the efficacy of DARE and, one, in particular – a ten-year study completed by the American Psychological Association in 2006 – involved one thousand D.A.R.E. graduates. After the ten-year period, no measurable effects were noted. The researchers compared levels of alcohol-, cigarette-, marijuana- and illegal drug-use before the D.A.R.E. program, when the students were in sixth grade, with the post D.A.R.E. levels, when they were 20 years old. Although there were some measured effects shortly after the program on the attitudes of the students towards drug use, these effects did not seem to carry on long term.

I recall D.A.R.E. sessions being held in my elementary school classroom. I remember learning about stuff that wasn’t even on my radar yet; that the baggies of substances that the officer held up at the front of the room only seemed to make me more curious about ‘drugs.’ I also remember feeling compelled, like almost brainwashed about the dangers of drugs. I can also tell you that, as I sit here writing this article, I am 14 months clean from a decade or more spent abusing multiple different substances. I also remember a good friend from high school – a guy who absolutely loved tripping on acid – telling me how, in elementary school, he was awarded a prize for a an essay he wrote for his DARE class. Hmmm…. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction issues, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.                    



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