The role of media in preventing substance abuse

Mass Media can play a very effective role in preventing drug use. Campaigns for drug prevention are always without controversy and can be effective in educating the young so as to reduce their using of drugs or even their intention of using. The possibility of a mass media campaign being counter- productive has been analyzed and it has been found that it has gained momentum in the past few years. These campaigns are implemented via the newspaper and magazine advertisements, radio or television or even road posters and bill boards. These days, text messaging, email and internet has become a powerful tool for the media and it enables them to propagate their focused messages.

Where and how do mass media campaigns work?

Mass Media has the ability to capture the attention of a larger number of people as well as a heterogeneous proportion of a country’s population. Their messages which are very simple can reach large audiences over a period of time with a low cost per capita. The only dilemma that is associated with these campaigns is that the target population is not interested nor has requested for this kind of social intervention and therefore they may have a negative result with their negative reactions.
It is a known fact that media campaigns have been able to successfully reduce the use of tobacco, promote road safety and has had a positive impact in many areas such as physical activity, screening for breast and cervical cancer for women, donation of organs, promotion for nutrition that is healthy etc. They are also playing a dynamic role in preventing the use of illicit drugs in young people. They address specific substances with the sole aim of reducing their use and raising awareness about the problems that are associated with the use of these substances. Young people are the target group because there are evidences to show that drug abuse is a problem that begins during adolescence, a time when young people indulge in experimenting with alcohol, cigarettes and illicit drugs.
Very few drug prevention media campaigns have been evaluated in a formal manner and anyway most of the evaluations are based on how much people understand and retain their messages. In a research carried out to study the effectiveness of campaigns held by the mass media in order to influence the use of drugs, or the intention of using it or even an attitude towards illicit drugs of young people under the age of 26, it was concluded that in the twenty-three studies involving 200000 such people in Canada, U.S. and Australia, only 14 of these studies were able to meet the criteria for being included for its effectiveness whereas the other 9 seem to have no effect or an unwanted effect.

Review of the studies

The review of the studies came to a conclusion that mass media campaigns had no effect or a weak effect on the reduction of using drugs. These campaigns affected individuals differently depending on their awareness level. Therefore, mass media campaigns can only be effective when provided in the context of well designed studies.

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