Ending or encouraging epidemics

Are anti-drug PSA’s really affective?

Nathan Reed, Staff Writer


Some people might remember the anti-drug ad about the young man who pulls out his tooth in exchange for a pack of cigarettes. What’s the overall purpose of this traumatizing PSA? Some of the first of many anti-drug advertisements started in the 1980s during the crack epidemic. However, years later,  an increase of 1.6 million people were addicted since the beginning of the epidemic. Today, 6 million are addicted. This epidemic forces us to analyze a crucial question: are anti-drug ads really effective?

Anti-drug ads are not as effective as they should be, and there needs a different approach so it works as it is intended to. After all, because of anti-drug ads, some children get curious about what it would be like to actually take them, despite all of the warnings.

Kids may see these ads on television, smart devices, or  social media. For example, you may of seen the anti-drug ad on vaping on Spotify.

“For some kids, seeing anti-drug ads made them curious about what doing drugs would be like, even if they had never had that curiosity before,” Ohio University Assistant Professor of Journalism Carson Wagner said.

There needs to be a better technique to keep kids away from drugs without making them curious. So what is the solution? Scare tactics. Since the 1920s, scare tactics are still being used in anti-drug PSAs, which scare people into not using them by showing images of the effects of drugs.

But even then, scare tactics are not always effective, as some people will reassure themselves saying that will never happen to them.

It’s true that scare tactics are supposed to scare people into not using drugs, but do they work?

PSAs still believe that scare tactics work on teens and drug users, but recent studies showed that this wasn’t the case.

An experiment made in 2018 had teens told to shop at a fake convenience store which had anti-smoking posters on it’s walls. After the experiment, the teens were asked how likely they would want to smoke. The teens with a higher risk for smoking said that they were more likely wanting to smoke after going in.

The availability of drugs could affect this, letting teens know that they could try it at any time. Out of 46,000 highschool students, 30-40% of them said they’ve used a drug at least once in the past year. People with drug addictions want to stop but keep going because of a ‘reward circuit’ in their brain, known as dopamine.

Dopamine is the chemical messenger in your brain, it is released when you sleep, eat, exercise, listen to music, etc. Dopamine motivates your brain to repeat certain behaviors. Unhealthy behaviors, created from drugs, high in dopamine, can easily get someone addicted. Lots of drug PSAs tend to focus on distracting metaphors rather than the facts up front. People could see the metaphor differently.

“The theory of cognitive metaphor has proved that metaphor plays the key role in formation of the picture of the world and influencing human behavior,” Marina V. Terskikha and Evgeniya D. Malenova students from OMSK State University wrote.

Overall, anti-drug PSAs don’t work very well since the ads make some kids and teens more curious about drug use and the metaphors used can be distracting. What things can PSAs do to successfully show that drugs are bad for you without tempting their viewers? PSAs should instead, be more factual and get the viewer’s attention so nothing would distract them. “We need to prepare kids—not scare them. Effective prevention programs for drugs and other risky behaviors prepare children and teens for the intensity of the emotions they’ll feel when they’re in that moment of decision,” as stated on www.researchgate.net. Concluding, it is easy to infer that anti-drug ads aren’t as effective as they should be.