Welcome to the Resouce Fair!

The Substance Abuse Coalition of Douglas County (CO) welcomes you to our virtual resource fair - - we hope you find it helpful in locating just the right service at just the right time for your family or for the families that you serve.

We know that you're a smart consumer and that you'll check these resources out for yourself to make sure you find the best fit; the Substance Abuse Coalition does not endorse any particular service provider or approach.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

SOCIAL NORMS MARKETING: Getting Some Perspective

You know what? Intervening with someone AFTER they've started using alcohol or drugs is really, really difficult. 

It's especially tough to intervene with adolescents, who haven't yet hit a financial or familial bottom and who haven't become physically addicted and whose brains are constructed in a way that encourages high thrill / low effort activities. So what we have to do is prevent use of drugs and alcohol. 

The hard part is finding a prevention strategy that actually does what we want and truly prevents children from using drugs and alcohol. There are a number of feel-good programs out there that have no proven effect yet continue to chomp up time and resources. But there is a prevention approach that works, and the Douglas County School District (supported by the Douglas County Youth Initiative and the Substance Abuse Coalition of Doug Co) has effectively implemented that approach in most middle and high schools in the district. 

The prevention strategy is social norms marketing, and it operates off of well-established research and down-to-earth common sense about adolescent social and neurological development. National studies indicate that teen behavior can be greatly influenced by the mere perception of what other teens are doing - - when an adolescent believes that most of his or her peers are drinking, then he or she is more likely to drink. 

Interestingly, most teens tend to overestimate the amount of drug and alcohol use that goes on among other teens; reasons for this overestimation phenomenon include our very human tendency to focus on the unusual and to exaggerate its frequency, combined with misinformation from well-meaning programs or professionals who would like to scare the community into action. 

So, perception drives behavior. The social norms approach involves correcting teens' misperceptions that everyone is using drugs and alcohol; what is advertised instead is accurate data about the healthy MAJORITY of youth who are choosing not to drink or drug. 

When teens realize that most adolescents at their high schools are making good choices, then they themselves are more likely to make those same choices. Social norms projects across the planet have consistently seen decreases in rates of substance use among their youth as overestimations of use were debunked. 

The lynchpin of social norms marketing is accurate, relevant data. Douglas County School District's participating schools start with a survey that evaluates actual use rates along with perceptions of use at each school, giving the project not just believable statistics for marketing purposes but also a benchmark for monitoring success of the approach over the three-to-five year implementation period.  The Social Norms Marketing Consultant works with participating schools to develop messages tailored to each environment, especially where other evidence-based programs, such as Positive Behavior Supports, are already in place.  You've probably seen them at the schools - - vibrant, engaging posters and other materials that change frequently so that the message never goes stale. 

Social norms marketing is a proven prevention strategy that relies on the community for support and sustenance. Your children report that their teachers and their parents are the most believable channels of information about drug and alcohol use - - this is a tremendous power and it comes with the tremendous responsibility (my apologies to Spiderman) to provide only accurate information to our youth. 

And here's what you can tell them - - the vast majority of kids in DCSD middle schools are choosing to be alcohol- and drug-free.  As their misperceptions about other kids' behavior has been corrected, data shows that our middle schoolers are even less likely to experiment!  And high schoolers?  We're seeing the same correction of misperceptions and that has led to FEWER teens initiating use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.  When fewer kids are engaging in substance use, schools function better and our community sees less juvenile misbehavior and crime.  We all gain when prevention works.

So, let's hear a collective WOOO HOOOOO for the school district, the Youth Initiative and the Substance Abuse Coalition for doing what works and sticking with it!  Johnny Mercer was right - - accentuating the positive is the way to go!


  1. Thanks so much for this post! It's so important to get the facts out into the community!

  2. Why, you are so welcome! :) Hope it's helpful for folks thinking about this issue, a resource they can access late at night as well as in the light o' day.

    Thanks for all you do for Douglas County kids & families!


  3. This is a wonderful post, but I would love to know what steps are being taken in the elementary schools. As great as it is to have these programs in place in the high schools and middle schools, I think more needs to be done at a younger age. As you said in the post, it is hard to intervene after they partake, and many children are experimenting at a younger age than in the past. I know we have Red Ribbon Week at our school, but that is it. And, it definitely takes more than 1 week each year to teach our children. As a child, I remember fondly taking part in the D.A.R.E. program, and seeing the presence of law enforcement in our schools (in a positive way!) I have yet to see that much education here in DCSD, and when I see and hear about the many (yes, not all, but MANY) kids that partake in underage drinking and drug use, it worries me.

    Yes, accentuating the positive is wonderful, but only as long as we are not turning a blind eye to the problems around us!

    Thank you for what you do, and are trying to do, and I hope to see much more being done!

    1. Hi, Three Sweet Smiles!

      So glad you visited the Virtual Resource Fair, and I have some good news for you - - Douglas County School District is looking out for your elementary school-age kiddos, too. :)

      DCSD has a long-standing partnership with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, which hosts the "Youth Education & Safety in Schools" (YESS) program - - YESS uses evidence-based strategies, taught by deputies, to deliver substance abuse prevention info in our local elementary & middle schools - - check 'em out here:


      The Student Wellness department with the school district is always looking at this issue and is admirably committed to using only approaches that are proven to work - - that's why DARE has been replaced with YESS & Positive Behavior In Schools (a global prevention project).

      Social Norms Marketing is a prevention approach that gets around the defenses teens can put up against the ol' lecture, lecture, lecture method. At the same time, the community also has access to a plethora of mid-level and high-level intervention for children & teens who ARE using and who are past the prevention stage. It's been a very intentional, system-wide response and it's working.

      I so appreciate your thoughtful question and your engagement in important stuff that affects our kids and our communities.....rock on!

  4. Hi, William ~

    I love this stuff. Evidence-based approaches that get around the very natural adolescent resistance to being told what to do and what not to do - - they work!

    Thanks for checking out the resources and the articles!

    Carla Turner

  5. Substance abuse treatment Center's life changing programs provide therapeutic interventions to help their wayward students, offering various methods of the comprehensive healing of their mind and emotions.