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Health, Nutrition & Fitness        < Previous        Next >



Why Doesn't Drug/Alcohol Ed Work?


Q. Our whole community threw itself behind D.AR.E., but after a few years of rallies and blue ribbons and lots of taxpayer dollars, our district dropped D.A.R.E. and said it didn't work. Meanwhile, every year in the springtime, it seems, some wonderful young person dies in an alcohol-related car crash, or we hear about some other kid who's gone off the deep end with drugs. What's going on?


The only hope we have is that parents will wake up, clean up their own acts, and do a much better job of drug and alcohol education in their own homes. That's the only approach that will work.


Public education won't work on what is essentially a moral issue. Substance abuse is such a complicated phenomenon, it's ridiculous to think that prevention can be taught in schools and have any significant impact. It appears that beyond what state statutes require in the way of health education to teach kids about the ill effects of drinking, smoking and taking drugs, money is largely wasted in elaborate drug and alcohol prevention programs when the parents - the only ones with moral authority - are kept out of the loop.


D.A.R.E. had all the best intentions in the world, but in the end, it had no moral authority over kids NOT to use, and parents assumed that's what D.A.R.E. was teaching kids - so THEY didn't teach them not to use, either. They "outsourced" drug and alcohol ed to the schools, which was bound to fail. In countless cases, too, the parents were hooked themselves, and didn't teach their children to "do as I say, not as I do." Worse, a lot of parents thought it was cute to buy beer for a kegger for their teenagers, or thought they were helping their child be popular by providing a place where kids could get high without getting yelled at.


So, kids being kids, in the absence of moral authority, they went ahead and used . . . and now we have huge populations and several generations worth of substance abusers. And we're all paying a huge price for it. And that price doesn't even count all the academic and workplace achievement we could have had, if substance abuse weren't damaging so many people's lives.


Teens report that drugs and alcohol are commonplace in school hallways, according to a survey of more than 1,000 teens by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA).


Four out of five students said they had seen drug deals and drunken classmates on campus. The number of teens who say their high school has a drug problem has risen from 44 percent in 2002 to 61 percent.


Meanwhile, substance abuse is very costly to deal with, to the point where we can't afford to prevent it at anywhere near the rate that the problems crop up. For every taxpayer dollar we spend on substance abuse issues, only 4 cents goes for prevention and treatment. The other 96 cents are spent on jails, police, judges, emergency rooms, social workers, and all the other governmental infrastructure necessary to cope with the consequences.


Elizabeth Planet, project manager for the CASA study, says the more available drugs and alcohol are, the more likely it is that kids will experiment. By all accounts, everything from cigarettes to prescription "uppers" are more available to children and teenagers today than ever, even in their own homes. She told Focus on the Family:


"The kids may be seeing it as normal and OK and something that worries them less, which is very bad, because when those kinds of perceptions about harm and concern go down, that usually will precede an increase in actual use. If your child is attending a school that's infested with drugs, even if you think your kid's not using, what you need to understand is that they're at a much higher risk of using."


According to national substance abuse officials, Americans make up only 4% of the world's population but use two-thirds of the world's illegal drugs. This country has 61 million chronic smokers, more than 16 million alcoholics, and more than 100 million people using antidepressants, tranquilizers and painkillers.


There's a great book out on it by Joseph A. Califano Jr., the former director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The book is High Society: How Substance Abuse Ravages America and What to Do About It. He's associated with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University,



Homework: You can keep tabs on what's happening with substance abuse issues on:


By Susan Darst Williams Health 07 2008



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