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close this bookPrevention of Drug Abuse through Education and Information: An Interdiscplinary Responsibility Within the Context of Human Development (EC - UNESCO, 1994, 26 p.)
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View the documentInformation
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View the documentPeers as agents of prevention
View the documentFear as a tool of dissuasion
View the documentAffective education


Some studies centre around the effects on information on drugs (cat Berberian et al.; Pickens). Findings concord that even short-term programmes have an effect on the level of knowledge of pupils. If results from the cognitive point of view are generally positive, those concerning attitudes tend to be contradictory. Whilst a first set of studies concludes that there is no effect on attitudes, a second set describes a transformation of attitudes in favour of drugs, a third bringing to light a modification of attitudes towards their rejection.

That most reports conclude that programmes for the prevention of drug abuse, if well-designed, increase knowledge in this domain is not surprising from both theoretical and practical points of view. Studies indicate that knowledge which has no links with affectivity and behaviour is easiest to change. On the other hand, the hypothesis whereby more precise knowledge about drugs would be likely to greatly decrease future consumption has rarely been confirmed. Despite the diversity of approaches in prevention of drug abuse, as well as the methodology and findings of evaluation studies, it can be affirmed that there is no consistent relationship either between knowledge and attitudes, or between attitudes and behaviour. The simple dissemination of objective knowledge is not therefore sufficient to modify attitudes and behaviour. This does not, however, mean that the transmission of information is not a prerequisite for promoting rational choice. Some studies indicate that the desire for new and exciting experiences is an important motive in drug taking. From this it can easily be deduced, on the one hand, that better knowledge increases the probability of drug taking by awakening curiosity in the substance and, on the other, that an objective presentation of facts might lead to some unjustified fears about drugs being eliminated. Various studies observe that the prevention of drug abuse can have a boomerang effect on attitudes with respect to drugs and their use.

The classical work of Stuart is certainly the best known and most frequently cited. In his research, Stuart establishes that, in comparison with a control group, a test group has more knowledge about the effects of drugs, but that in this group the use of alcohol, of marijuana and of LSD increased, as did the purchase of drugs, whilst fears in respect of drugs diminished. The programme for the test group comprised six teaching units taught once a week. The content of the programme included transmission of knowledge regarding the physiology and the pharmacology of drug use, as well as a presentation of the legal, social and psychological consequences of use. Moreover, the programme demonstrated differences not only in content (only " hard " drugs, only " soft " drugs, the two types together), but also in respect of the person transmitting the knowledge (teacher, or teacher and pupil). Stuart finds no significant differences according to the content or style of intervention. Similarly, he brings no significant relationship to light between knowledge and fear of drugs. These findings can be considered as an indication of the fact that links between increased knowledge, reduction of fear and increased use of a drug respond to mechanisms which are more complex than is usually admitted.

If this was the only study to bring to light such results, it would be simple to question the findings and consider it as an experimental artefact. Whereas, several other studies also tend to show that, under certain circumstances, concrete effects of persuasive prevention can be inconsistent with the desired effects (cf. Polich et al; Pickens). Gonzales in two studies, however indicated that the " knowledge - attitude - behaviour " model can serve as a basis for prevention of alcohol abuse, on condition that the target audience is exposed over a long period of time to persuasive information and is actively involved in educational programmes. This point of view is confirmed by Evans et al., as regards the prevention of addiction to smoking. These authors observe a two-fold behavioral response to a programme for prevention of smoking. During a first stage, consumption of cigarettes increases, but decreases on the long-term. Blum, et al. and Williams et al., also observe that the short term negative effects of information programmes can be compensated for by positive long-term effects.

Even if information programmes can arouse youthful curiosity about drugs (available data on this subject is not completely unanimous), this would not justify ceasing to inform young people about drugs. That would be to hide from them the possibly serious consequences of drugs, whereas they are often exposed to partial or inadequate information from informal sources. The findings discussed above should, rather, be seen in a different light; to transmit information on drugs without at the same time teaching some abilities and skills as to how to resist temptation is a questionable prevention strategy. To proceed in the opposite direction and provide information based on the acquisition of technical competence, is to promote human development.