I click on the trailer for the “Theory of Everything,” a movie about physicist Stephen Hawking, which seems like a relatively harmless video on YouTube. A yellow bar shows at the bottom of the screen. An advertisement. The black screen turns to a young woman standing at the cash register of a store, placing a pack of cigarettes and some money in between her and the cashier.
All is well until the cashier tells the woman that she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the cigarettes. Then, the girl’s fingers slowly rise to her face and she starts to peel off a large piece of skin from her cheek to give to the cashier, who watches this whole thing coldly.
My stomach turns, and I frantically look for the little box in the right hand corner of the screen giving you the option to skip the ad. However, I’m forced to sit through the remainder of the disgusting commercial until finally, I can watch the video I wanted too with a sick feeling in my stomach from what I was just forced to see.
Horrifying advertisements like these constantly bombard children and adults alike on several websites, including YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook, Hulu, and more. The sad thing is that the advertisement described above was not even one of the most nightmare-worthy commercials that I have seen regarding this topic. Anti-drug campaigns are using scare tactics to try and get people to stay away from drugs, a strategy which is proving to be very ineffective thus far.
One of the biggest misconceptions about why people choose to do drugs is that it is caused by the ignorance of the person to the inherent risks. Anti-drug campaigners use this belief to justify their idea that “the end justifies the means” and show whatever appalling stories they see fit. However, despite the fact that all different types of people are constantly being bombarded with horror stories about drugs, drug use in the United States is at an all time high. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths caused from the use of drugs is steadily increasing. For example, in 2001 heroin use caused about 2,000 deaths in the United States, while in 2013 the drug was responsible for 9,000 deaths.
The trends for most other drug-related deaths are very similar to that of heroin. Although this data was taken a few years ago, the number of deaths caused by substance abuse is steadily increasing. Therefore, something in the anti-drug campaign must not be going as planned.
According to the Foundation for a Drug Free World, the major reasons people choose to do drugs regularly include anxiety, depression, or stress, and they are tempted by things like marijuana, alcohol, or even harder drugs because they see it as a temporary relief.
A big mistake that is made much too often in anti-drug lectures is that they do not offer people an alternative. I feel like anti-drug arguments would be much more effective by simply saying, “Instead of doing drugs, which have negative impacts on your mind and body, you can meditate, do yoga, take naps, etc.” A message like this might be more effective because it both acknowledges the appeal of drugs and provides a safer alternative.
Not only that, but by showing horrifying images like people ripping their own teeth out to pay for cigarettes or cutting themselves during a bad meth trip just stresses people out even more, which adds much more to the problem than it solves. There is no research that shows the advertisements are causing more people to turn to substance abuse, but based on the disturbing images they are showing, I can’t imagine that it is helping.
Another common persuasion technique used by anti-drug companies is to show the extreme cases of abusing a certain type of drug. While bad things do happen as a result of drugs, such as car accidents, and cancer, the majority of the results constantly shown to students are so extreme that we doubt whether or not they are actually true.
By the same token, anti-drug lectures often only show the bad sides of drugs, while many types of medications have benefits when used for the correct reasons. Marijuana is often used for cancer patients as a painkiller, as is morphine. Coca leaves, which are used to make cocaine, are an effective remedy for altitude sickness in South American countries, and drinking a glass of red wine with dinner can help reduce cholesterol and blood clotting. I’m not trying to say that drugs should be used because of these benefits, but by listing both the pros and cons of different substances and showing how the drawbacks overshadow them, it makes an argument against them much stronger.
I appreciate what anti-drug campaigners are trying to do, and I sincerely hope that their efforts are effective in persuading people to not abuse drugs. However, I don’t think that the way to do it is showing horrible stories that make people feel sick to their stomach. Stopping drug abuse is a positive goal, so it should be advertised in a more positive way.