Failures in the War on Drugs and its Usage Among Teenagers and Young Adults: A Critique of Anti-Drug Campaigns-Enver Holder-Hayes
One of the biggest problems has been the possession, sale and usage of drugs and narcotics both here in the
Certainly, with drug abuse being a major issue among young people there have been many anti-drug campaigns and interventions that have been put in place. This problem is also important to me personally because I come from a community in
Parents Are Used to Deliver the Message
The main component of the Partnership for a Drug Free America campaign and others similar to it is to educate parents on the consequences of drug use and how to talk to their children about encouraging them not to use drugs. Some major social science and behavioral models that the anti-drug movement utilizes is the Health Belief Model, Social Cognitive Theory and Advertising Theory (8,9). However, the Health Belief Model is flawed in many ways and is part of the reason that using parents to send the message about not using drugs has had little effect (8,9). One flaw is that the Health Belief Model is an individual level model and uses individual level factors, which means that environmental or social factors are not considered (10). Another flaw is that the model assumes that a person’s behavior is planned and behavior does not happen spontaneously (10). A third flaw is that the model assumes that behavior is totally rational and that a cost/benefit analysis is used to by a person to exhibit a certain behavior (10).
A few years ago the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) did an assessment of how effective the National Youth Anti-Drug Campaign and the Partnership for a Drug Free America has been in reducing drug use among teens and youngsters (11). One of the areas that was assessed was the impact of the campaign on parents and if parents in turn had an effect on their children (11). The study finds that parents do a good job in talking to their children about the importance of not using drugs and doing activities that are fun with their children (11). However, when it comes to parents closely monitoring their children on what activities they are involved in and who they hang around the results are very poor (11). Most parents are not paying close enough attention to who may be influencing their children outside of the home which may be contributing to the ineffectiveness of the anti-drug campaign.
Another reason why using parents to deliver the message about not using drugs is ineffective is because most children see parents as the enemy. For the majority of teenagers and young adults, when a parent tells them not do something they will do the opposite and it will peak their interest about the issue even more. A 23-year old girl had this to say about the use of parents to send the anti-drug message in a recent article, “Teenagers seldom listen to their parents. To me, only someone who has in-depth knowledge of drugs or was once a drug-taker is persuasive (12).” This article also discusses how the lack of attention that they pay to their children about what behaviors they are carrying out contributes to the growing drug use problem. Ms. Koon Man-wai who is a registered social worker who encounter’s teenagers who use drugs daily had this to say, “Many parents are occupied by their work. As they have heavy workload, they can only contribute little time to anti-drugs programs (12).”
Misleading and Failed Messages
While using parents to send messages about not using drugs to their children has its problems, it is only a component of the broader problem of the National Anti-Drug Campaign. Another problem with the anti-drug campaign here in the
The anti-drug campaign here in the
As mentioned earlier, many of the anti-drug campaigns try to utilize social science theories as a blueprint for their overall approach, specifically the Health Belief Model, Social Cognitive Theory and Advertising Theory. The failure of the correct use of the Social Cognitive Theory has directly attributed to many of the misleading and failed messages that anti-drug campaigns have been sending (9). A good anti-drug campaign using SCT should build one’s self-efficacy and make teens believe that they should overcome the obstacle of not being tempted to use drugs and if using drugs being able to stop (9). Secondly, the anti-drug campaign should be able give teen’s incentives to change their behavior when it comes to drugs so that teens know that their life will be better if they are abandoning drugs (9). Sending messages that teenagers cannot understand or don’t take seriously does nothing to solve the drug abuse problem and just waste millions of dollars in funds.
Alternatives Are Not Proposed
Finally, the third critique that I have of the anti-drug campaign here in the
Many of the anti-drug advertisements talk about the dangers of using drugs but then don’t give any positive messages about what alternative may be available. Let’s take the Above the Influence campaign as an example. This is probably one of the most popular anti-drug campaigns that target teens in the
The final main social science theory that is used in anti-drug campaign is of course, advertising theory. It fits perfectly into the problem of advertisements not showing positive alternatives to using drugs rather than just showing the negative consequences. The goal of advertising theory is to change a mass of people’s behavior at the same time by making them a promise in two ways, by providing certain benefits and by hitting at their core values (10). While most of the anti-drug advertisements talk about the long-term benefits of not using drugs, many teenagers think in the short-term and so it is imperative that the advertisements show the short-term benefits of not using drugs as well. An article in the American Journal of Public Health, looks at the impact of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign on a group of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 (18). The results found were remarkable in that the campaign had no effect on drug use and even may have increased the chances of teens using drugs (18). This type of result is unacceptable and provides more evidence that the types of advertisements that are being constructed by various anti-drug campaigns are wasteful and ineffective.
As illustrated, the use of drugs by teenagers has been a major problem over the few years. Consequently, millions of dollars have been put into anti-drug campaigns targeted at teenagers and young people. Unfortunately, they have for the most part been unsuccessful and have had some fundamental flaws. Three flaws that I saw with the anti-drug interventions were that parents are being used to deliver the message, many of the messages are misleading and do not relate to teens and there are no alternatives given to teens in the anti-drug ads about what other things they can be doing besides drugs. Social science research and theory such as the Health Belief Model, Social Cognitive Theory and Advertising Theory have been used to shape how many of the anti-drug interventions are constructed. However, many of these social science theories also have flaws that are contributing to why the anti-drug campaign among teens has largely been a failure. There is also another issue that the anti-drug campaigns are not considering. Stopping drug trafficking is very important in succeeding in the effort to lower teen drug use and drug use overall. If the amount drugs coming into the
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The “Stay Focused” Campaign-An Alternative to the Current Failing Anti-Drug Campaigns-Enver Holder-Hayes
Every year, more than 17,000 deaths in the
A successful anti-drug intervention should address all of these flaws as well as building on aspects of those interventions that have worked. An alternative anti-drug intervention that will be addressed in this paper is called the “Stay Focused” campaign. The main objective of this campaign is having young adults helping other young adults to stay focused on their life goals and not letting drug usage get in the way. This intervention will have several components. The first is that teenagers will be used to deliver the message about not using drugs to other teenagers, in addition to parents. The second is that the message will be targeted so that teenagers and young adults not only understand the long term consequences of drug usage but how it can impact them in the short-term. The final component is to provide teenagers with a variety of resources to discuss their drug problems, if they are already using drugs; and how to stay away from using drugs if they are not already using them. The “Stay Focused” campaign will incorporate three types of social science theory, Theory of Planned Behavior, Social Cognitive Theory, and Advertising Theory.
Use a Combination of Peer and Parental Influence
The first component of the “Stay Focused” campaign is focused on getting teenagers to deliver the message about not doing drugs and other illegal activities to other teenagers. One of the key flaws of the current anti-drug campaigns is that many of them are based on parents telling them not to use drugs but do not recognize the influence of peers on drug usage as well (4,5). It is clear that strategy has not worked as many teenagers rebel against things that they parents say about what they should not be doing (4,5). A good way to make this component work is to apply the Theory of Reasoned Action. The three parts of this theory is a person’s attitude towards a particular behavior; followed by subjective norms that surround that particular behavior, which in turn will decide a person’s intention to actually produce that behavior (6).
Most teenagers attitude towards using drugs is that they know that using it is wrong and illegal but since their peers are doing it they still want to do it to “fit in”. In the “Stay Focused” campaign the aim will be to change the social norms. Teenagers who do understand the importance of not using using drugs will be used to convince other teenagers why it is important to not use drugs. This will not be done simply by advertising, but by having forums take place in both schools and community centers in which teenagers of the same age will have a discussion about the impact of drugs in their daily lives. In addition, parents will also be used to reinforce those ideas about drug use in the home. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, based in the
Send Clear Messages about the Long and Short-Term Consequences of Drug Use
The second component of the “Stay Focused” campaign is to send messages to teenagers and young people about the long and short-term impacts of drug use that are clear to them, with an emphasis on the short term. The best way to approach this part of this intervention is to apply Advertising Theory. Advertising Theory main goal is to change a mass of people while making a promise based on two provisions, providing benefits and reaching their core values (6). In the previous paper, it was noted that many of the advertisements send mixed and misleading messages to teenagers who made the anti-drug intervention flawed. In the “Stay Focused” campaign, two advertisements would be set up to target separate audiences. The first would be targeted to teenagers who may love to play sports and see that as a career decision. The second would be targeted to teenagers who see college and professional career as a goal.
For example, the first ad would show two healthy teenagers playing basketball, one beginning to use drugs and the other not using drugs. Then a timeline of how is game deteriorates over time will be presented, maybe 6 months, to where the teenagers is not as crisp and skillful as he was before he started using drugs. At the end of the advertisement, the message would read, “Using drugs made this teenager lose their skills, now they will not get recruited to play college basketball. Do you want that to be you? Stay focused on not using drugs and you can achieve anything!” The second ad would be similar in its structure, in the end the teenager using drugs will receive a letter stating they did not get into college while the teenagers not using drugs would be accepted. The White House Drug Policy office points out that in order for an anti-drug campaign to be effective it must be clear and direct in its messages to teenagers and young adults (9). An article written by Crain and colleagues points out how the pro-drug advertisements show more of an upside in the short-term than anti-drug advertisements that are targeted in the long-term which could be contributing to the spike in drug usage among teens (10).
Target Teenagers Who Are Already Using Drugs and Provide Alternatives
The last component of the “Stay Focused” anti-drug campaign is to take into account teenagers who have been using drugs and not using drugs, providing alternatives for them and a variety of resources to deal with their problem. Social Cognitive Theory is probably one of the best social science theories to focus on for this component. The reason why is because it takes into account external, social and internal factors that may influence a person’s behavior (6). It also targets the concept of self-efficacy, which is a person actually believing in themselves and that they can actually make the behavior change (6).
This component will have more of a hands-on approach. One approach is to get teenagers together who are currently using drugs and not using drugs to interact. By seeing physical examples of people who have been in their position and overcome it, it will help to drive their self-efficacy higher, therefore making them more likely to change their behavior and stop using drugs. A study looking at the effectiveness of anti-drug PSA’s pointed out that it is very important to take into account a person’s self-efficacy when designing an anti-drug intervention (11). A group called Common Sense for Drug Use Policy criticized the Office of National Drug Control Policy for using a set of anti-drug ads for the 2008 Super Bowl, because it ended up lowering the self-efficacy of teenagers rather than raising it (12).
The second goal is to help change the environment around the communities that many of the teenagers live in so that they have alternatives to not using drugs. A good example is the environment that minorities may face. Many neighborhoods that minorities live in are run down with little parks and recreational facilities for teenagers to utilize. Having infrastructure and activities in place may make teens too busy or become turned off by using drugs. One article pointed out that targeting and making changes in environment can be very effective in changing behavior (O'Connell, 2004). The example they used was with tobacco smoking, where taxes where raised on cigarettes and restrictions were placed on where people could smoke (13).
As illustrated, the “Stay Focused” campaign goal is provide teenagers with as much power and resources as possible to change their behaviors, particularly when it comes to using drugs. The three main components of this intervention is utilize both peer-to-peer intervention jointly with parent to teen intervention to change individual behavior and social norms, emphasize the short-term consequences of drug usage and providing resources by advertising effectively and alternatives for teenagers who are using and not using drugs to change one’s self efficacy and environment. The “Stay Focused” campaign may not totally eliminate the problem of drug use but will reduce it by acknowledging previous interventions weaknesses.
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