Why Don't Scare Tactics Work? Reason #4

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 #4: Strong warnings can send unintended messages

When adults go to extremes to get anti-drug messages through to youth, the intensity of the effort may itself be sending an unintended message. Some youth may conclude that since adults are very concerned, drug use must be a widespread problem among their peers and that not using drugs must be difficult. In other words, youth will sense that use is the norm and that their peers are not only using, but are accepting of use.

This is exactly what researchers found when they studied the effectiveness of the national media campaign with a strong focus on the harms of marijuana. Over the years of the campaign, youth came to believe that their peers were using more marijuana, so they expected less social disapproval should they also use the drug.

Young people that already have a favorable view of drug use are invested in maintaining that view. When scare tactics underscore the belief that "everyone is doing it" their core belief is justified. The result? The message backfires, and the risky behavior is either maintained or even intensified. The only effective way to prevent this is to offer positive, educational messages and opportunities for behavioral change.

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