Ohio State University
Last updated 2/28/06
Ohio – A newly-released
study suggests that a well-designed in-school and
community communication campaign really can dramatically
cut marijuana and alcohol use among young teens.
In a study of 32 schools in 16 communities around the
country, researchers found that the campaign cut in half
the number of students who began using marijuana and
alcohol during the two years of the project, compared to
students in communities without the program.
“That's a startlingly strong effect,” said
Michael Slater, principal investigator of the study
and professor of
communication at Ohio State University.
The campaign included print materials, such as a series
of posters, as well as promotional items such as book
covers, tray liners, T-shirts, water bottles, rulers and
Slater said the success of the campaign was largely due
to the sophisticated, well-researched theme, developed
over the past 15 years by study co-author Kathleen
Kelly, professor of marketing at
Colorado State University.
The theme was “Be
Under Your Own Influence,” which Kelly said
speaks to teens' efforts to establish their own
“The campaign slogan elicits positive attitudes about
being independent and in control,” she said. “It's
something teens will listen to because it isn't
A very similar theme was recently adopted by
Office of National Drug Control Policy for its
national campaign, which it calls “Above the Influence.”
Slater served as chair of the advisory expert panel
assisting that national campaign in 2003 and part of
Results of the study will be published in the journal
Health Education Research: Theory and Practice.
The study involved 16 small communities in all regions
of the United States . In half of the communities, two
middle schools received the “Be
Under Your Own Influence” campaign. In
addition, an area-wide communication effort was made
available in these eight communities, mirroring the “Be
Under Your Own Influence” theme for the
in-school campaign. In these communities, volunteers
provided posters to local businesses and organizations,
organized anti-drug events, and provided information to
the local media, with the goal of reinforcing the
in-school communication efforts at the two local
The other half of the communities had no media program
of any kind. In addition, half of all participating
schools (both those with and without the media campaign)
also offered participating students “All Stars,” a
well-respected substance-abuse prevention curriculum.
In all, 4,216 students participated. They completed
questionnaires that examined their alcohol, cigarette
and marijuana use. They were surveyed four times over
two years: before the intervention program began, at the
end of the first school year, in the fall of the second
school year, and late spring of the second year.
Results showed that in communities with the “Be
Under Your Own Influence” campaign, only
about half as many teens reported taking up use of
alcohol or marijuana, compared to teens in communities
with no program, during the two years in which the
campaign was in the schools. For example, in schools
without the media campaign or classes, over more than 20
percent of the students reported having tried alcohol
and/or marijuana. But in schools with the media campaign
and curriculum the percentages were just slightly more
than 10 percent.
Each of the different treatments – media and curriculum
–appeared to have independent effects on lowering drug
and alcohol use, Slater said. As expected, substance use
was lowest in schools where both the media and the
curriculum programs were in place. But the media
programs had a larger impact than did the school
“A media program has an advantage in that it can stay in
the environment in an ongoing way. Students take a
course, but after it is over its influence starts to
fade,” Slater said.
The media-based program appeared to reduce both alcohol
and marijuana use; effects were especially clear cut
with respect to marijuana.
“These multi-substance approaches are particularly
advantageous given the limited resources and time
available in most schools to devote to substance-abuse
prevention messages,” Slater said.
Kelly said the researchers were surprised by the
“phenomenal success” of this campaign and, as a result,
are continuing similar research projects to see if the
effects can be replicated and improved.
Part of the reason for the campaign's success may be
that the theme resonated with youth and stressed
positive reasons to avoid drugs.
“Strong fear appeals regarding alcohol and marijuana,
we've learned over the years, are typically not
effective with teens,” she said. When campaigns focus on
the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use, it
may cause some teens to think about friends who have
used drugs or alcohol with no obvious problems, which
can hurt the credibility of the message.
“Our campaign instead used messages that appeal to what
teens aspire to achieve,” Kelly said.
The study was supported by a grant from the
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Contact: Michael Slater, (614) 247-8762;
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457;