Why Don't Scare Tactics Work? Reason #3

This week, we will be focusing on why scare tactics in drug prevention messaging DON'T WORK, according to the Drug Free Action Alliance (DFAA).

Reason #3: High-risk groups can be more attracted to risky behavior

Brain research outlines concerns for all young people, but underlines why scare tactics seem to backfire most with high-risk youth. Some youth are wired more strongly for sensation-seeking and are more impulsive risk-takers. People with these traits need a lot of activity and stimulation or they get bored easily. This, coupled with an underdeveloped brain, can make some youth more likely to develop alcoholism and other drug problems.

When high-risk youth are presented with scare tactics, the warnings trigger defense mechanisms while the danger creates a thrill. Rather than serving as a warning, the messages can fuel high-risk behavior. Without full impulse control or judgement, a high-risk youth is not able to process these dire warnings and adopt preventative behaviors in the way adults hope.

Scare tactics are especially dangerous for your who have already experimented with these substances and have favorable views of them. A study of the effectiveness of the national campaign on marijuana found youth who already held strong anti-marijuana views were unaffected by the ads, while those youth with more pro-marijuana attitudes actually ricocheted in the wrong direction, rejecting the message and becoming pro-marijuana. The more favorable the prior attitude, the less the warnings will be believed.

A better approach would be to teach preventative behaviors by presenting positive alternatives. When prevention messages do not preach, there is nothing to rebel against. Staying positive can reduce the likelihood that the strategy will fuel further high-risk behavior.

For more information or to place an order for the scare tactics manuals, please visit https://www.drugfreeactionalliance.org/scare-tactics.