Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen
In a previous post we talked about the ineffectiveness of the school-based substance abuse prevention program called D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). We reported data from a meta-analysis of 11 studies which showed no significant effect of D.A.R.E. in reducing drug use. A recently published study examined the effectiveness of another school-based program called Take Charge of Your Life (TCYL).
TCYL was developed in 1999 as part of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Study (ASAPS). The ASAPS was a response to the criticism D.A.R.E. was receiving at the time. The goal of the study was to create a more effective program that could utilize D.A.R.E. funding and resources.
The TCYL curriculum consists of 10 lessons in the seventh grade and 7 lessons in the ninth grade which are all taught by trained D.A.R.E. Officers. The TCYL lessons inform students of the personal, social, and legal risks involved with drug use and provide accurate statistical data on drug use. The general philosophy of TCYL is to actively engage students and allow them to make a choice to not use drugs. Like D.A.R.E., the TCYL courses teach communication, decision-making, assertiveness, and refusal skills.
To determine the effectiveness of TCYL, 20,000 seventh graders were enrolled in the study and followed through the ninth grade. Roughly half of these students received the TCYL curriculum while the other half did not.
The results from the study show a negative effect, where TCYL actually increased alcohol and cigarette use among baseline nonusers, compared to students who did not receive TCYL. Clearly, this is not what the developers of TCYL were hoping to see. However, what is equally interesting from the results is a positive effect, where TCYL decreased marijuana use among students who were already using marijuana when the study began. This finding reinforces the idea that people can be affected by the same program differently.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the mixed results of TCYL is that prevention programs need to be designed to take into account people’s individual differences. In addition to previous drug use, developers need to understand how race, gender, personality, and other individual variables affect the success or failure of their program. Without this understanding, “one size fits all” programs like D.A.R.E. and TCYL can easily end up causing more harm than good.
*D.A.R.E. has not adopted the TCYL curriculum and continues to teach the relatively new “keepin’ it REAL” curriculum, whose effectiveness has yet to be determined.
Sloboda, Z., Stephens, R.C. , Grey, S.S., Teasdale, B, Hawthorne, R.D., Williams, J., and Marquette, J.F. (2009) The adolescent substance abuse prevention study: A randomized field trial of a universal substance abuse prevention program. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 102(1-3)