Anti-drinking ads: Give it to ’em straight

Snarky commentary on government ad campaigns to discourage alcohol, drug and tobacco use. [Update: Just to clarify. The article may be snarky, but this substance of its criticism is fair.]

…the government’s anti-marijuana ads are ineffective and might be making certain teens more likely to use marijuana. A 2002 study, for instance, found, “little evidence the Media Campaign has a direct, favorable effect on youth” and “those who were more exposed to the (ads) tended to move more markedly in a ‘pro-drug’ direction.” More recently, a non-NIDA study by researchers at Texas State University-San Marcos found that college students who viewed the ads developed more positive attitudes toward marijuana than those who did not.

The results are not surprising. Research shows what doesn’t work: “Scare-based” tactics, “just say no” platitudes and messages that are over-the-top or do not conform to people’s perceptions and experiences. Paternalistic messages trigger rebellion. Repetitious warnings not to use drugs give people the false sense that all their peers are using drugs. And messages that distort the truth cause listeners to reject prevention messages….

In contrast, the anti-smoking “Truth” campaign has been highly successful. The ads don’t talk down to teens or even tell them not to smoke. They basically say smoke if you want to, but it’s stupid. And you’ll have bad breath. And you won’t to be able to run without gasping for breath. That’s effective. Cornell University’s anti-binge-drinking “smart woman” campaign is also promising. It avoids paternalistic messages not to drink and teaches students how to use good judgment and avoid high-risk drinking behavior.

One thought on “Anti-drinking ads: Give it to ’em straight

  1. Using scare tactics regarding sex, drugs, and alcohol may “work” for some teens, but in the long-term, such tactics are unproductive and fail to tell the entire story. For instance, if drug and alcohol professionals want to “reach” our youth in order to help decrease alcohol abuse, not only do the professionals need to focus on the damaging and unhealthy consequences of alcohol abuse, but they also need to focus on the importance of peer pressure or influence, on the perception that drinking alcohol makes it easier to socialize with potential dating or sexual partners, and on the “good feelings” or the “fun” of getting an alcohol high or buzz. Teens are not stupid. Not only are they able to “see through” one-sided arguments (such as scare tactics or “just say no”), but perhaps more importantly, they will quickly realize that such arguments are not consistent with what they (the teens) have experienced. The point: Measures taken to reduce alcohol and drug abuse and irresponsible sex need to be reality-based and need to address the situational, economic, social, psychological, the physiological “draws” or underlying reasons for the behavior.DenMan7


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