Drug Abuse Prevention Programs

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Drug Abuse Prevention Programs:
Effectiveness of DARE and Project ALERT

Drug Abuse Prevention Programs:
Effectiveness of DARE and Project ALERT
Although drug use among secondary school students appears to have leveled off during the late 1990s, US adolescents continue to use alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana at unacceptably high rates. Among eighth graders, 52% have tried alcohol, 41% have tried cigarettes, and 20% have tried marijuana. By 12th grade these rates are substantially higher, with large numbers of adolescents engaging in regular drug use (Ellickson, Bell, & McGuigan, 1993).

In spite of numerous programs implemented in elementary, middle, and high schools to prevent drug, alcohol, and tobacco usage this problem continues to escalate at alarming rates. Researchers and critics have ongoing debates over the most effective way to prevent future drug, alcohol, and tobacco usage among children, yet there has been little consensus regarding exactly how to combat this growing epidemic. The issue surrounding the debate is specifically which programs to implement that most effectively prevent these addictions among adolescents (Gorman, 1994). School-based drug prevention programs are popular because they aim to reduce a person’s first use of drugs, and some researchers believe that early experimental use of drugs leads to increased regular drug use and addiction (McNeal & Hanson, 1995). Project DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and Project ALERT are just two examples of such programs. The purpose of this paper is to examine the effectiveness of Project DARE and Project ALERT. A discussion of each program will include a description of its goals, along with how they are implemented, and an explanation of the empirical findings.

DARE was created out of the need to prevent future drug usage in adolescents, as a result of the increasing drug epidemic occurring in the US in the early 1980s. The philosophy behind the creation of DARE was, that since between 70-90% of all crimes in the US were drug related, targeting children and informing them about the dangers and legal ramifications of drug usage at an early age, prior to adolescence, would prevent them from becoming involved in this lifestyle. The theory behind the DARE program was that targeting children and educating them on the dangers of drugs, would lead to a decrease in experimentation with drugs, once they reach adolescence. DARE was based on the premise that prevention was the only long-term answer to drug abuse, thus targeting it before it start, would reduce, if not eradicate, the problem. Additionally, DARE was designed in hopes of having a secondary effect of reducing gang membership and violent crimes among youths, while boosting self-esteem, by equipping adolescents with the skills needed to resist peer pressure and intimidation to commit these acts (Clayton, Catarello, & Wooden, 1991). The DARE curriculum is presented over a seventeen-week period, which includes one lesson per day, lasting between 45 to 60 minutes, to fifth and sixth graders (Ennett et al., 1994). The program is also taught to students in kindergarten through fourth grade, and a ten-week curriculum is designed to be taught to junior high and high schools (Burke, 2002). The DARE curriculum focuses on four areas: (a) providing accurate information about drugs, alcohol and tobacco; (b) teaching students good decision making skills; (c) giving students ideas for positive alternatives to drug use; and (d) showing students how to recognize and resist peer pressure. The curriculum for the standard DARE program implemented in grades kindergarten through fourth grade, often focus on these areas. The junior high and high school curriculum of the DARE program includes lessons on resisting peer pressure, improving decision-making skills, anger management and conflict resolution. The high school curriculum is taught in collaboration with...
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