My Topics

28 November 2013

How Anti-Drug Campaigns Can Boomerang

Keywords: alcohol, media, parents, smoking, survey, teens, North America, drug use, health, marketing, peers, social marketing,

Anti-drug campaigns have the ability to prevent teens from using drugs. However, there are many factors that may influence the success of those campaigns. A Health Communication study evaluated the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign in the United States. Although the anti-drug campaign is successful in motivating teens to talk with their parents and friends about the downsides of drugs, this doesn’t necessarily prevent them from using drugs. In fact, the campaign even has a boomerang effect: ‘friends talk’ about the campaign leads to an increase in drug use (i.e., cigarette, ecstasy).

Take aways

  • Anti-drug campaigns can motivate teens to talk with their parents and friends about the negative effects of drugs. 
  • ‘Friends talk’ leads to a boomerang effect: those who talk with their friends about the downsides of drugs are more likely to use cigarettes and ecstasy. 
  • Interestingly, talk with parents discourages alcohol use. 
  • Health campaigners and social marketers must be aware of the potential boomerang effect of anti-drug campaigns that encourage ‘talking with friends’. It might be more fruitful to look for ways to encourage parent-child communication in their substance use prevention programs, as this decreases teens’ alcohol consumption. 

Study information

  • The question?

    What’s the influence of interpersonal communication (i.e., friends/parents talk) on the effects of anti-drug campaign messages on teens?

  • Who?

    2,749 children between the ages of 11 and 18 years (51% were boys)

  • Where?

    United States

  • How?

    This study used data from four rounds (from September 1999 to June 2004) of the National Survey of Parents and Youth (NSPY). This survey evaluated the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a multimedia campaign targeted at 9-to 18-year olds and their parents. Teens answered questions about their exposure to anti-drug campaign messages, conversations with their parents and friends about the negative effects of drugs, drug-related discussions during organized group activities (i.e., music, dance, theater or other performing arts, in or outside of school), their visits of anti- and pro-drug websites, and their drug use (i.e., alcohol, cigarette, marijuana, inhalant, and ecstasy use). 

Facts and findings

  • Teens who were frequently exposed to anti-drug campaigns, more often found themselves in drug-related discussions, and conversations with friends and parents about the negative effects of drugs than those who were less frequently exposed to these campaigns. 
  • Those who talked with parents about the downsides of drugs were less likely to consume alcohol.
  • However, teens who talked with their friends about the negative effects of drugs, were more likely to drink alcohol and use ecstasy, 
  • These teens also visited both anti- and pro-drug websites more often.
  • According to the researchers, an explanation for this finding is that they might have searched to verify the information they got from friends by seeking for the pros and cons. 
  • Interestingly, the exposure to the additional anti-drug information online did not affect teens' drug use, however, the exposure to pro-drug information online led to more cigarette use.