D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time

Trista - July 8, 2020

D.A.R.E., which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is an educational program aimed at preventing the use of controlled drugs, gang membership, and violence. It was created in Los Angeles in 1983 as a partnership between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles School District in response to the War on Drugs.

School districts all over the United States take part in D.A.R.E. For years, people believed this program helped kids stay away from drugs. However, this seems more of a myth than truth. While D.A.R.E. is helpful in schools and has educated many children about drugs, there are many reasons why it’s not as effective as most people believe.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
LAPD D.A.R.E car. Flickr.

35. The History Of D.A.R.E.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) established D.A.R.E. in 1983 with a simple mission: stop kids from using drugs before they even started. The program proposed that officers would go into schools and talk to students about the dangers of drug use, and it was something that drew bipartisan praise and approval.

By supporting a program like this, politicians came across as pro-cop, pro-kid, and anti-drug: all good things. Eventually, the program took in eight figures, not counting funding from individual state affiliates.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E. slogan with a lion. Tom Green County Sheriff Department.

34. DARE New Jersey Sued DARE America In 2012

DARE New Jersey filed a suit against DARE America for “putting thousands of NJ children at risk by revoking the state affiliate’s charter because it used its own drug abuse prevention program in elementary schools.”

New Jersey used its own curriculum, “Too Good for Drugs,” and though the program was successful and took in $21.3 million in revenue in 2011, the national organization revoked the charter. In 2015, DARE New Jersey lost its case against the national organization, which meant that DARE NJ no longer would exist.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E. curriculum for D.A.R.E. Halton. Slideshare.

33. What Did The D.A.R.E. Curriculum Contain?

The core curriculum contained 17 lessons, usually intended to be taught in weekly increments, with the primary goal of educating students on drug prevention via a social influence approach. Of course, many police departments added to the curriculum so they could focus on situations that are more relatable to their community.

The central tenet of the program was resisting peer pressure by being aware of the dangers of drugs, though it sometimes used inaccurate information and even unintentionally glorified drug use at the time by making it seem taboo.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. NY Daily News.

32. Supporters Of The D.A.R.E. Program Refused To See Its Flaws

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appointed by Donald Trump, thought that DARE was valid despite the various data that indicated its failure. In fact, Mr. Sessions was such a big fan that he talked about bringing DARE back in 2017.

Sessions stated about the program, “I believe that DARE was instrumental to our success… And I want to say thank you for that. Whenever I ask adults (..) about prevention, they always mention the DARE program. Your efforts work. Lives and futures are saved.”

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
The D.A.R.E Mascot Lion goes to school and talks to children about the program. D.A.R.E.org.

31. Responses To D.A.R.E. Criticism

DARE America has asserted that pro-drug legalization groups were behind the criticism of the program and were trying to support individual personal agendas at the expense of America’s youth.

The program has even gone as far as to say that critics were motivated by jealousy of the overall success of DARE rather than looking at any potential flaws. DARE’s executive director at the time compared it to “kicking Santa Claus.” They also indicated that it was evident that the effects of the program would dissipate over time, especially without reinforcement.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Department of Justice seal. Wikimedia.

30. Early Studies Proved D.A.R.E. Didn’t Impact Teens As Many People Believed

The earliest studies on D.A.R.E’s effectiveness returned unexpected results: the program was not working as most people thought and believed it would. This caused many people to start questioning the plan.

The most incriminating study was commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and conducted by the Research Triangle Institute. Its findings showed that the D.A.R.E program was mostly ineffective and was taking up funding that could be better spent elsewhere, but the results were ultimately not published.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
“Just Say No!” Board game to help promote D.A.R.E. for the entire family. Washington Post.

29. The “Boomerang Effect” Means Students were More Likely to Try Drugs after the D.A.R.E Program

Not only was the program ineffective; in fact, studies indicated that student participants were more likely to experiment with drugs after being part of the DARE program.

The “boomerang effect” refers to the unintended consequences of an attempt to persuade, resulting in the adoption of the opposing position instead. In other words, once these students were exposed to the concept of these drugs, some were curious about what the experience would be like. One study suggested that DARE students were more likely to experiment with drugs than their peers who had not been through the program.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E lion became the mascot and way to interest young kids in the program. Facebook.

28. Teens Didn’t Fully Believe The D.A.R.E. Curriculum

Most teens don’t fall for scare tactics like “fear-mongering,” which is how some D.A.R.E. professionals tried to use during the program. Teens tend to be very talented at catching and dismissing any exaggerations about adverse health effects of certain drugs like marijuana, which then discredited the rest of DARE’s efforts.

In one part of DARE’s curriculum, a ‘fact-sheet’ claimed that marijuana has no medical value, weakened the immune system, and caused insanity and lung disease. While this changed over the years, this statement became part of the downfall of D.A.R.E. in many communities.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
One of the most effective ways police departments supported D.A.R.E was through decorating their vehicles. Patch.com.

27. Despite Studies Proving Its Ineffectiveness, Supporters Still Argued For It

High-level supporters insisted that it was still better to have it than not, despite scientific studies indicating that the program did not stop kids from doing any kind of drugs or alcohol. Gilbert Botvin, from the Institute for Prevention at Cornell University Medical Center, states that “It’s well-established that DARE doesn’t work.”

Mike Miller, a Round Rock police officer, and DARE teacher, however, insists that “DARE really works,” based on “surveys from across the nation.” Most supporters never changed their minds about the program’s effectiveness.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Students using drugs and alcohol by percent. Dual Diagnosis.

26. The D.A.R.E. Program Is Expensive

No program that sets out to try to stop children from using drugs is cheap, and D.A.R.E. is no exception. While it didn’t cost as much when it first started, the more schools decided to include D.A.R.E. in their curriculum, the more expensive the program became.

DARE costs up to $270 per student, and once the costs of the police educators have been added in, the total national costs are estimated to be between 1.04 – 1.4 billion USD per year. Police educated in the D.A.R.E. program receive specialized training through classes.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
The D.A.R.E. program is taught in all 50 states and other countries. D.A.R.E.org.

25. Does D.A.R.E Do More Harm Than Good?

Programs like D.A.R.E create inaccurate stereotypes that can hinder children’s ability to identify a dangerous scenario correctly. For instance, when one student was asked about an example of peer pressure, he defined it as other students trying to force him to do something he didn’t want to do.

The more delicate subtleties of peer pressure were lost on him – he didn’t understand the daily demands he may experience without even realizing it. By portraying peer pressure as a “big bad evil,” the program made him incapable of recognizing the danger and combating it.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E. officer informing students about the program. D.A.R.E.org

24. DARE Tried to Use Children as Informants

Children in participating schools were asked to submit written questionnaires with sensitive information in a lesson called “The Three R’s: Recognize, Resist, Report.” It encouraged children to tell friends, teachers, or police if they found drugs at home.

The program even went to lengths to place a DARE box in classrooms where students could place “drug information” under the guise of anonymity. Still, if a student did make a disclosure, the officer was to report the information to further authorities regardless of whether the drug was legal or not, harmless or not.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E. President Frank Pegueros. D.A.R.E.org

23. DARE Was Based on the Idea that Awareness Would Equal Avoidance

The leading theory behind D.A.R.E. is that the more officials made children aware of drugs, the less they would use drugs in the future. The main idea for the program was to let children know about the perils of alcohol, cigarettes, and other substances so they would become less likely to use them.

D.A.R.E President Frank Pegueros stated, “Everyone believed that if you just told students how harmful these substances and behaviors were – they’d stay away from them.” Unfortunately, this theory is wrong as statistics showed this theory is ineffective.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Teen speaking to a counselor. Addiction Center.

22. Even With D.A.R.E. And Other Anti-Substance Programs, Statistics Continued To Climb.

In 2017, approximately 2.3 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 and 2.4 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 started to drink alcohol. In the same year, 1.2 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 and 525,000 Americans over the age of 26 used marijuana for the first time.

In 2017, 1 million Americans above the age of 12 used cocaine for the first time. About 1.4 million people in the United States are regular hallucinogen users. About 143,000 of them are minors between the ages of 12 and 17.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Warsaw Police Department celebrates 25 years of D.A.R.E. Inkfreenews.com

21. D.A.R.E Is Not 420 Friendly

In 2012, D.A.R.E. America decided to refocus its new curriculum on character development, as it realized that anti-drug content was not always age-appropriate. They wanted to make sure that they could reach all students, and not just a particular age group.

Most students in this age group have no basis of reference to the substance, and research indicates that teaching children about drugs they are unfamiliar with may stimulate their interest or curiosity about the substance.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Most drug prevention programs in the 1980s and 1990s failed. WTOL new broadcasting.

20. D.A.R.E. Wasn’t The Only Drug Education Program That Didn’t Work

Many people like to point fingers at the D.A.R.E. program when it comes to talking about how it didn’t work. Other anti-drug programs that people taught in the schools didn’t show useful statistics either. In fact, most of the program’s officials surveyed found that the programs didn’t improve drug-related statistics.

A study completed by the California Department of Education showed that nearly all of their anti-drug programs failed to reach the students. Drug use in schools was increasing instead of decreasing. The only reason most people pointed at the D.A.R.E program is that it became the most significant program.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Nancy Reagan promoting the “Just Say No” Movement. Campaignlive.com

19. D.A.R.E. Is A Small Portion Of The Just Say No Movement

During the early 1980s, a movement known as “Just Say No” started. Then First Lady Nancy Reagan started the action and decided to do most of the work. She spent her days traveling to schools throughout the United States to talk to students about saying “no” when it came to drugs.

Schools weren’t the only place Reagan went to. She also talked to recovering addicts in rehab centers and gave interviews on television about the “Just Say No” movement. While the statistics for the movement didn’t get as high as Reagan hoped, she did make other Americans realize that substance abuse is a problem.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Keepin’ It REAL D.A.R.E. helps students learn stress management techniques as part of the program. SWnewsmedia

18. In 2009, D.A.R.E Got Rid Of Its Old Curriculum

One of the factors that D.A.R.E. officials have always done is continue to do their research so they can make the D.A.R.E. program as great as possible. They want to keep as many children away from drugs as they can, so they completely redid their curriculum in 2009.

Not only did D.A.R.E. become known as “Keepin’ It REAL,” but the program gave up most of its lectures and turned to more activities to get kids interested. The program started to focus more on how to handle social situations and your emotions when it comes to your friends or someone else offering you drugs.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
You can purchase D.A.R.E. merchandise and workbooks at DARE.org. DARE.org.

17. D.A.R.E. Doesn’t Spend Much Time Discussing What The Critics Have To Say

Officials who support and teach D.A.R.E. have heard more criticisms throughout the last few decades than they want to admit. In fact, they don’t usually defend themselves or the program when it comes to critics.

Instead of defending the program, D.A.R.E. officials state that the critics are wrong, and the information is false. They believe the studies are poorly done, and people need to realize that while the program isn’t perfect, it does help keep some children away from drugs.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E. is a part of the new program called “Keepin’ It REAL” Facebook.

16. D.A.R.E. Officials Used To Attack Their Critics

While D.A.R.E. officials and supporters try to turn a blind eye to their critics, there are times when officials had enough and verbally attacked many of their critics. They stated that their critics wanted the program to fail because the critics didn’t believe that drugs are a problem for youth.

D.A.R.E. officials felt that critics had their own financial self-motivation when it came to the program. One D.A.R.E. official stated, “they are setting out to find ways to attack our programs and are misusing science to do it. The bottom line is that they don’t want police officers to do the work because they want it for themselves.”

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Pelham Police Sergeant Brian Hendrie teaches during 2014. Colonial Tomes.

15. One Reason Children Liked D.A.R.E. Is Because They Got Out Of Class

One of the benefits of D.A.R.E, at least for children, is they got out of their regularly scheduled class for a short time to take part in the program. While they often sat and listened to the D.A.R.E. officer speak about the dangers of drugs and how to keep themselves safe, children liked the fact that they had something different to look forward to.

Many D.A.R.E. programs had their students in elementary and middle school fill out surveys throughout the curriculum. Before they graduated from D.A.R.E. When asked what they enjoyed most about the program, many students talked about how it got them out of class.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E. created Keepin’ It REAL as an up-to-date anti-drug program for schools. slideplayer.com

14. Today the D.A.R.E. Program Is Held At A Higher Standard Than Other Programs

Even after decades of critics pointing fingers at D.A.R.E. and stating that it doesn’t work when it comes to keeping kids off drugs, the program is still held at a higher standard. In fact, more people believe in D.A.R.E. today than ever before.

Part of this is because D.A.R.E. has transitioned to “Keepin’ It Real,” which is the new D.A.R.E. program. However, D.A.R.E. is still a big part of the anti-drug campaign, and police officers, military, and other officials continue training in D.A.R.E.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
An old D.A.R.E. student workbook from 1991. Amazon

13. Critics Didn’t Truly Want The D.A.R.E. Program To Fail

No matter how many critics the D.A.R.E program gained, one factor most of them agreed on was they didn’t necessarily like seeing the D.A.R.E program fail. No one really wants to see a program that is meant to help children say no to drug failure.

The biggest problem the critics have is the program didn’t reach children as it should have. This meant that changes needed to happen, and nothing changed. Supporters refused to acknowledge that the program wasn’t working, and this irritated the critics.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Surgeon General of the United States, David Satcher. Wikimedia.

12. D.A.R.E. Statistics Started To Changed In The Early 2000s.

While D.A.R.E. is known as a little different program today, its statistics did show a bit more promise starting around 2003-2004. If the D.A.R.E. program didn’t help children learn the dangers of drugs and give them a higher chance of saying no, officials would cut the program like they did other programs.

The fact is, D.A.R.E. continued to grow because its officials did their research and learned what they needed to start focusing on to make the program a success. The Office of the Surgeon General showed that most kids who graduated from D.A.R.E. in 2003 decided to turn away from drugs in comparison to other years.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
D.A.R.E. Plus Logo. DARE.org

11. What’s DARE PLUS?

DARE PLUS stood for “Play and Learning Under Supervision,” with the intent of providing students with educational and vocational curricula after school over periods of 7-10 weeks with components that address bullying, self-esteem, and citizenship.

The program also incorporates field trips and activities as rewards for participation and success in the classroom. DARE PLUS was piloted in Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, and California. In each case, the program led to improved attendance and reduced local crime. The plan was suspended in the early 2000s due to budget limitations, but it has been re-launched in Houston, TX.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
A police officer was teaching D.A.R.E. Kenner Police Department.

10. The Keepin’ It Real D.A.R.E. Program Removed Messages about Cannabis

Once the legalization of Cannabis becomes a top report across the newspapers of the United States, the D.A.R.E. officials started looking at their next steps. They needed to figure out what to do as they still didn’t want children to think that Cannabis is a safe drug.

One of the steps the officials came up with is giving schools the advice to remove any talk about Cannabis from the curriculum. They already knew that the more they discussed drugs, the more curious the students become. Therefore, if they don’t talk about Cannabis, students are less likely to try it.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Keepin’ It Real adventure book. Real prevention

9. What is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration?

This administration is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

But “Keepin’ It REAL” is on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Daren the Lion, D.A.R.E. mascot, with D.A.R.E. supporters. sheriff.macombgov.org

8. One Problem With D.A.R.E. Was The Lectures Became Too Long

One of the least effective ways to teach a child is to stand in front of a class and give a lecture. While the D.A.R.E. curriculum had a few activities, such as coloring pages and connect the dots, it wasn’t enough to reach children.

The younger children didn’t fully understand the lectures, and the older children became lost in their thoughts. Because of this, children never learned as much as they could from the D.A.R.E. program, which is one reason why it didn’t work well.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Jefferson police officer teaches the first D.A.R.E. program. raccoonvalleyradio.com

7. All Anti-Drug Programs, including D.A.R.E, Have More Hands-On Activities Instead Of Lectures

Over the years, D.A.R.E. started to become more interactive. Part of this is due to the growth of technology, while another part dealt with the fact that officials knew they needed to create other ways to reach children. This meant that the program needed a boost of excitement that would pull children into the curriculum.

Unfortunately, by the time the D.A.R.E. program became interactive other changes happened, such as the growth of other anti-drug programs. Furthermore, the D.A.R.E. program never escaped its failed statistics. D.A.R.E. developed a reputation that it couldn’t erase.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
National D.A.R.E. Day is typically celebrated in the spring now. DARE.org

6. National D.A.R.E. Day Continues today

When the D.A.R.E. program first started in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, it was hard to find critics. Most people believed the program would become successful and supported it. Politicians loved the idea of D.A.R.E. so much that President Ronald Reagan established a “National D.A.R.E. Day” in 1988.

Reagan stated the main reason he established this day was so the nation could celebrate how the D.A.R.E. program helped over one million children since it started. The first National D.A.R.E. Day occurred on September 15, 1988. While it is not as big of a holiday now, many schools still do something special for it.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
A 2005 D.A.R.E. class. Priceonomics.com

5. Many Schools Have Replaced D.A.R.E. With Keepin’ It Real

The D.A.R.E. program shows many changes over the last few years. One of the changes is the phasing out of its original curriculum and into a different D.A.R.E. curriculum or a brand new program known as Keepin’ It Real.

The Keepin’ It Real program started around 2009 when middle schools picked up that curriculum over D.A.R.E. About five years later, elementary schools began to switch over. Instead of long lectures, there are more interactive lessons, which many officers state increased the engagement of students.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Keepin’ It Real D.A.R.E. class. Fort Madison Community School District

4. What Does Keepin’ It Real Stand For?

The “Real” in Keepin’ It Real is part of an acronym: Refuse, Explain, Avoid, and Leave. In a nutshell, “Real” stands for the four various ways that students can just say no when it comes to drugs. For example, a student can refuse the offer to have a cigarette and then leave the situation if their peer continues to pressure them.

“Real” gives students a different way to communicate than telling a friend “no” because it is harder for children to say “no” to each other. They have the choice to explain, or they can simply decide to avoid the situation or just leave. Schools also teach their students that the “Real” response can be used in other conditions that make them feel uncomfortable.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Keepin’ It Real is an arm of the D.A.R.E. Program that shows improvements. Priceonomics.com

3. Keepin’ It Real Is Working Better Than D.A.R.E. Did

According to evidence, “Real” is working better than the D.A.R.E. program did. While some people say, this is because the classes are more interactive than the D.A.R.E. program was at the beginning.

Scientific American states “Keepin’ It Real” program is working better, “The reports from students who completed keepin’ it REAL indicated that they sampled these substances less than those in a control group, and used a wider variety of strategies to stay sober.”

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Naval Officers also teach the D.A.R.E. program in schools. Priceonomics.com

2. D.A.R.E. Is Still Taught In Some Schools

While most schools have switched over to Keep It Real curriculum, there are still many schools around the United States and the world that continue to teach the program. While the schools might not focus on the whole curriculum, they do have a trained D.A.R.E. officer talk to children.

The D.A.R.E. program has slightly changed over the years and tends to include more activities today. For example, children can wear goggles and try to walk a straight line, so they understand what it is like to see while intoxicated. Most programs have a small ceremony once the class graduates from the D.A.R.E. program.

D.A.R.E Was Not as Effective as It Seemed to be at the Time
Michigan Model for Health breakdown. Michigan.gov

1. There Are Still More Effective Programs Anti-Drug Programs

Even though D.A.R.E. is still taught in many schools, there are still a lot of anti-drug programs that are proven more effective. The Drug Strategies Group reviewed and rated 46 total drug prevention educational programs, rating only 6 of them with A’s for overall program quality.

The six programs were: The Michigan Model (K-8), Life Skills Training (6-8 or 7-9), Project ALERT (6&7 or 7&8), Project Northland (6-8), and Students Taught Awareness and Resistance (Star – 5-8).


Where did we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

“D.A.R.E.’s Story as a Leader in Drug Prevention Education.” D.A.R.E. America.

“A brief history of DARE, the anti-drug program Jeff Sessions wants to revive.” Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post. July 2017.

“Proclamation 5854—National D.A.R.E. Day, 1988” Ronald Reagan, Presidency Documents. September 1988.

“STUDIES FIND DRUG PROGRAM NOT EFFECTIVE” Dennis Cauchon, Schaffer Drug Library. October 1993.

“D.A.R.E., America’s Most Famous Anti-Drug Program, Will No Longer Talk to 10- and 11-Year-Old Children About Marijuana” Mike Riggs, Reason. December 2012.

“Statistics on Addiction in America” Addiction center.

“Truth or DARE: An Examination of the Efficacy of the DARE School Drug Prevention Program” Sabrina Qiao, Sabrina Qiao’s Civic Issues Blog.

Also Read: America’s Long and Costly War on Drugs