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Guess What? Asking Kids About Drugs Won’t Make Them Use Drugs

Information and inquiry are not gateways to drug use, a new report suggests. Although it may seem an obvious conclusion to many, a team from the University of Washington found that discussing undesirable behavior — including drug use — does not encourage children to try it.

Some anxious parents believe that talking to their kids about alcohol, drug or tobacco use may plant a seed in a young brain and lead them astray. But the study, released earlier this week, finds no evidence that children will, as a consequence of being asked about it, use the substance in question.

The study by the UW Social Development Research Group, published in the October issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, focused on school-based surveys of fifth- and sixth-graders to determine whether their behaviors changed over time. The research team found that, among two groups of students — one surveyed in fifth and sixth grade, and a control group surveyed only in sixth grade — substance use did not increase following student participation in the surveys.

“We hope that it puts community members at ease about collecting data in the schools for prevention purposes,; said John Briney, a senior data manager for the Social Development Research Group and the lead author of the study. “It’s a relatively unobtrusive, inexpensive method to gather data. Communities can use data to guide prevention efforts and not worry they’re harming students.” Briney added.

The report focused on a 2,000-student sample of respondents in the Community Youth Development Study, which was administered in seven states, including Washington. The report found:

Among sixth-graders who had been first surveyed in the fifth grade, 10.4 percent said they had smoked cigarettes during their lifetime; 20.8 percent had used alcohol; 10.8 percent had used inhalants; and 2.6 percent had smoked marijuana. These usage rates were actually lower than among the control group of sixth-graders — of whom 12.6 percent said they had smoked marijuana and 23.6 percent said they had used alcohol. Rates of lifetime use of inhalants and marijuana in the control sample were higher than rates in the initial sample but not statistically significant.

If the surveys had prompted substance use among the initial group of fifth-graders, then usage rates when they were in sixth grade should have been higher than those of the control group of sixth-graders, Briney explained. “The study answered an important question — whether asking about substance use at a young age encourages use. We didn’t think it would, and the data show that asking about drug use doesn’t increase use,” he said.

Conducting such a study in other locations, especially in states where marijuana has been legalized (this survey was conducted in 2004, prior to legalization in Washington) and among older students would be useful, and could yield slightly different results, Briney said.


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