Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE)

Program Goals

The primary goal of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) is to teach effective peer resistance and refusal skills so that adolescents can say “no” to drugs and their friends who may want them to use drugs. The secondary goals of the program are to build students’ social skills and enhance their self-esteem, as these are believed to be linked to adolescent drug use.


DARE was developed in 1983 as a joint effort between the Los Angeles County (Calif.) School District and the Los Angeles Police Department. In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to promote drug abuse education and prevention programs across the country, and DARE spread rapidly, with many school districts adopting it for their students. By 1994, DARE was the most widely used school-based drug prevention program, showing up in all 50 states in the United States and spreading to six foreign countries.


Target Population/Eligibility

DARE was initially designed for elementary school students, specifically fifth and sixth graders. Over the years, it has developed curriculum aimed at middle and high school students. The early focus of the program was to inoculate or strengthen children to resist the temptation of drug experimentation and the pressure of peers who want them to engage in drug use.


Program Activities

The core curriculum of DARE consists of 17 lessons, one given each week. These lessons are taught by police officers in school classrooms. Lessons last about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Following is a brief description of the 17 lessons (Rosenbaum et al. 1994):

  • Lesson 1: Introduction and personal safety: Introduction and discussion of personal rights and general safety practices
  • Lesson 2: Drug use and misuse: The harmful effects from misuse of drugs
  • Lesson 3: Consequences: Consequences of using alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs
  • Lesson 4: Resisting pressures: Different types of pressures to use drugs are identified and discussed
  • Lesson 5: Resistance techniques: Students learn refusal strategies to combat peer pressure
  • Lesson 6: Building self-esteem: Importance of self-image and how to identify positive qualities in yourself and others
  • Lesson 7: Assertiveness: Personal rights and responsibilities and situations that call for being assertive
  • Lesson 8: Managing stress: Identifying stress and ways to cope with it without drugs
  • Lesson 9: Media influences: Discussion of movies, television, and advertising techniques
  • Lesson 10: Decision-making and risk-taking: Discussion of risky behavior and consequences of choices
  • Lesson 11: Drug-use alternatives: Other activities students can engage in besides drug use
  • Lesson 12: Role modeling: Role models that do not use drugs and older students that have stayed away from drugs
  • Lesson 13: Support systems: Types of support groups and barriers to friendship
  • Lesson 14: Gang pressures: Discussion of gangs and the consequences of gang activity
  • Lesson 15: DARE summary: DARE review
  • Lesson 16: Taking a stand: Discussion of how to stand up for yourself when pressured to use drugs
  • Lesson 17: DARE culmination: Award assembly and encouragement of participants to stay away from drugs

Program Theory

DARE uses the social influence approach to drug-use prevention. This psychosocial approach emphasizes and aims to strengthen children’s refusal skills so they can better resist social pressures to try and use drugs. It also builds general social competencies to help prevent or at least delay adolescent drug use. The core curriculum was built for and targets children in their last years of elementary school, fifth and sixth grades. It is thought that this is the age where children are most receptive to antidrug messages and catches them before they experiment or are pressured to experiment with drugs by their peers. DARE officers receive 80 hours of training in classroom management, teaching strategies, communication skills, adolescent development, drug information, and thorough instruction on DARE’s 17 lessons.

Intervention ID: 
11 to 18
No Effects

Study 1

Ennett and colleagues (1994) used a quasi-experimental research design to evaluate the effect of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) on initiation of drug use. The data used in this study comes from the Illinois DARE study, which was a convenience sample of 18 pairs of elementary schools in northern and central Illinois. These schools were matched closely on racial composition; number of English as a second language (or ESL) students; percentage of students from low-income families; and metropolitan status (i.e., urban, suburban, and rural). Six pairs of schools, 12 schools total, in urban and suburban areas were randomly assigned to DARE or the control condition. In the rural settings, six pairs of schools were assigned to DARE or the control condition using a nonrandom procedure to minimize travel time and accommodate DARE officers’ busy schedules in the more urban locations. DARE schools were selected out of schools already planning to implement the program. Comparison schools were drawn from nearby counties.


This resulted in 1,803 students participating in the pretest or baseline data collection. The first round of data collection, Wave One, occurred just before the implementation of DARE when students were in either the fifth or sixth grade. Wave Two happened right at the end of DARE programming. Waves Three and Four occurred one year after the pretest and two years after the pretest, respectively. By the end of data collection, students were in seventh or eighth grade. Analyses were conducted on students that were present and provided information for all four waves of data collection, reducing the sample size to 1,334 students.


The sample consisted of roughly one-third fifth graders and two-thirds sixth graders, 33 percent and 67 percent respectively, and was almost equally divided by gender, with 51 percent male. The majority of the sample (54 percent) was white, followed by African American (22 percent), and Hispanic (9 percent). Percentages for Native American, Asian, and “other” were not reported. Most children (67 percent) had both parents at home, and the sample was fairly evenly divided amongst the three different community types: 35 percent urban, 38 percent suburban, and 27 percent rural.


The data collected measured drug use behaviors as well as social and psychological variables believed to be related to drug use. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol were the two behaviors focused on in this evaluation, as they are the two substances most commonly used by adolescents. Attitude toward general and specific (i.e., cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana) drug use, perceived benefits and costs of drug use, self-esteem, assertiveness, and peer-resistance skills comprise the social and psychological variables measured. Also collected and used in later analyses were sociodemographic variables, such as gender, race/ethnicity, community structure, and family type.


The researchers used a nested cohort strategy to analyze the collected data. The nested strategy takes into account that schools were randomly assigned to receive DARE, not individuals. Students within schools were followed over time as a cohort to assess the effects of DARE at each posttest wave of data collection. Ordinary least squares (OLS) and logistic regression were both used, depending on whether the dependant variable was continuous or categorical, respectively. In the logistic regression models, the effect of DARE is in adjusted odds ratios, and for the OLS models, the coefficients are reported.


Study 2

Clayton, Cattarello, and Johnstone (1996) used a quasi-experimental design to determine the effectiveness of DARE on adolescent drug use. Of 31 elementary schools in Lexington, Ky., 23 were randomly assigned to receive DARE, and the remaining eight schools were selected as comparison groups. These eight comparison schools received drug education lessons, but they were not part of the DARE curriculum. Since these schools could not be classified as “no treatment,” the evaluation looked at the DARE program versus another drug education program.


Pretests/baseline measures were obtained before DARE lessons or the comparison drug program was given in the sixth grade. The first posttest was taken four months after the completion of DARE. Follow-up data collections occurred every year for five years, with most students in the tenth grade at the final wave.


The final sample was 2,071 students who completed all five waves of testing. This sample was 51 percent male, 75 percent white, 22 percent African American, and two percent of another race/ethnicity. Most students were 11 to 12 years of age at baseline, making them 16 to 17 years of age at the end of the study period. A total of 1,550 students were in the treatment (DARE) group, and 551 students were in the comparison group.


Drug use was measured as the frequency of use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana in the past year. Students were asked how many cigarettes they had smoked, how many glasses of alcohol, and the number of times they had smoked marijuana in the past year. Drug-specific attitudes were measured, using a five-item scale to assess how negatively adolescents viewed drugs. General drug attitudes were measured, using a seven-item scale, with no specific drug mentioned in any of those questions. Peer pressure was measured with a nine-item scale that focused on the respondent’s ability to resist peer pressure. In addition, students were asked how many of their friends they believe use cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. This perceptional measure was included as an additional peer pressure measure.


Mixed effects regression models were used to determine the short-term and long-term effectiveness of DARE. This method accounts for the clustered or hierarchical nature of the data, which are students clustered within schools and sequential measurements clustered within an individual. Individual trajectories of drug use are modeled first, then variation in status and change between persons within schools, and lastly, variation between schools.


Study 1

Drug Use

The logistic regression adjusted odds ratios show that Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) had no statistically significant impact on students’ initiation of alcohol use, cigarette smoking, or heavy drinking. This result was evident immediately after the completion of DARE, one year after completion, and two years after completion. Additionally, DARE did not affect students’ quitting of alcohol use during the study period (Ennett et al. 1994).


There were some positive impacts of DARE on students. Analyses show that DARE students, compared to control students, were half as likely to increase their cigarette use from pretest (Wave One) to the posttest (Wave Two). Rural students that received DARE were half as likely to increase alcohol use upon posttest. There was, however, no protective effect for alcohol evident for suburban or urban students receiving DARE. That is to say, although DARE did not prevent adolescents from using cigarettes or alcohol, those participating in DARE were not as likely to increase their use of cigarettes or alcohol compared to students in the control condition. This effect was only evident from Wave One to Two, meaning that this small protective effect wore off after a year.


Attitudes Toward Drug Use

The only significant effect found was on students’ self-esteem. At posttest, immediately after the 17 DARE lessons were completed, there was a significant positive effect on students’ self-esteem. However, DARE had no immediate or long-term effects on students’ attitudes toward drugs or their social skills, and the boost to self-esteem did not last over the study period.


Study 2

Drug Use

For the overall sample, Clayton, Cattarello, and Johnstone (1996) found an increase in drug use. Specifically, over the 5-year study, there was a 130 percent increase in cigarette use. Analyses looking at the specific impact of the DARE intervention reveal similarly negative results. There were no significant differences by intervention status present for any of the drug use outcomes. Thus, for cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, there was no discernable difference between students receiving DARE or the comparison group.


Attitudes Toward Drug Use/Refusal Skills

Over the 5-year evaluation period, negative attitudes toward drug use declined for the whole sample. This included a decline in negative attitudes toward general drug use and specific use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. Students on average felt their ability to resist peer pressure declined strongly, about 25 percent between baseline and year five. Additionally, students perceived that more of their peers were using drugs. The sample as a whole, both treatment and comparison, experienced a significant change in their drug-related behavior.


Examining the treatment group (DARE) and the comparison group (other drug education) separately reveals an interesting effect. For the early follow-up measurements, DARE students maintained negative attitudes toward drug use and moderately strong refusal skills. After the full five years, however, these small effects wear off, and there is no discernable difference between DARE students and comparison students.