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Did the DARE Program Fail?

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If you were a grade schooler or middle schooler in the 1990s, you’ve probably heard about the DARE program. You might have also heard that this infamous classroom drug prevention program doesn’t work. People may even poke fun at the fact that DARE was not successful in preventing drug use and addiction among children and teenagers.

While there are many jokes today that float around about DARE, are we able to call in a failure? We’ll look into the details of DARE’s decline to find out.

What Is the DARE Program?

DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is a youth program designed to warn children against drug use. The program was typically taught to middle- and grade school students by police officers and authoritative figures.

The DARE program included 45-minute lectures by the officers running the class or any volunteers they brought with them (such as individuals from correctional facilities). Lessons typically would consist of drug prevention tactics — teaching students how to say no and putting a large emphasis on abstinence. Classes would sometimes involve role-playing exercises, where officers would pretend to offer students drugs so they could practice refusing. Leaders would also tell children stories of individuals whose lives were ruined by drugs or show them statistics of death from substance abuse as part of a scared-straight approach.

The History of DARE

Dare was introduced to 5th and 6th grade classrooms in 1983, when “Just Say No” and The War on Drugs were standout political initiatives. For about ten years or so, the DARE curriculum was practiced in 75% of U.S. schools, costing taxpayers about $600 million a year. In the early 1990s, however, the American Psychological Association and other government organizations began to critique DARE’s tactics and curriculum. After a thorough investigation by the APA, DARE lost its federal funding in 1998.

After losing its funding, DARE kept quiet for a short period of time. In 2009, however, DARE implemented the Keepin’ It REAL curriculum. This new program, developed by individuals at Penn State University, was tested on 7,000 students at the middle school level. The new program has proven to show more positive results than the original DARE curriculum, which was ultimately not a success. 

Did The DARE Program Fail?

Yes, the DARE program did technically fail after its defunding. While the program was not successful in preventing children from using and becoming addicted to drugs, it has inspired changes in the U.S. government and drug policies. It failed for multiple reasons, mostly concerning the lack of education and the use of fear as a tool in lectures and activities.

Why DARE Wasn’t Successful

DARE provided facts and figures regarding the dangers of drug use, but did not address the disease of addiction. The primary reason that DARE failed is because the experience of addiction was completely overlooked. Instead of providing educational resources about addiction and recovery, the program instilled fear into students that ultimately could have sparked curiosity that may lead to substance abuse.

Alternatives to the DARE Program

Today, there are more reliable and educational programs available to inform young people about the dangers of drug use and addiction. To learn more about drug prevention education and useful tools for teaching the young community about drugs, contact our team of substance abuse professionals today.


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