D.A.R.E.? Get REAL!
D.A.R.E.? Get REAL!

School Health and Wellness//

August 31, 2023

Keepin’ it REAL Program Teaches Students to Refuse, Explain, Avoid, and Leave

For more than a decade, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program—D.A.R.E.—was the go-to curriculum for educators looking to work toward drug abuse prevention in schools. While the success of D.A.R.E. has not been fully determined, another program has risen to take its place—and it’s a REAL step in the right direction.

Today, schools use the Keepin’ it REAL (kiR) program: Refuse, Explain, Avoid, and Leave—REAL—is the acronym young people learn in the kiR curriculum. Keepin’ it REAL is a scientifically proven, effective substance use prevention and social and emotional competence enhancing program designed to focus on preventing substance use and abuse.

With its distinct focus on communication and reasoning techniques—which differs from D.A.R.E.'s message about the life-wrecking side effects of illegal substances—Keepin’ it REAL is one of the ways to prevent drug abuse in schools by helping students develop anti-drug mindsets and prevent bad decisions.

Keepin’ it REAL’s curriculum is science-based and peer-focused, and oversight is provided by an advisory board composed of prevention specialists and substance-abuse experts. Featured as a cost-effective and powerful program by the U.S. Surgeon General since 2016, this program is based on the real stories of young adolescents and program videos serve to provide social modeling of effective strategies.

The program’s lessons, primarily designed for middle and high school students, focus on enhancing social skills and decision-making abilities. According to the program’s website, Keepin’ it REAL curriculum supports drug abuse prevention in schools significantly:

  • reduce rates of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use by as much as 45%;
  • lead to a discontinuation of use—rates of discontinuing all substance use were 61% higher for those who participated in kiR than those who didn’t;
  • lead to more realistic perceptions of peer use;
  • increase anti-substance use attitudes;
  • increase efficacy in resisting offers of substances; and
  • improve relationship skills, self-awareness, and responsible decision-making.

Opportunities for role-playing scenarios and decision-making tutorials are part of the curriculum. Keepin’ it REAL comprises 10 45-minute lessons that provide behavioral models and opportunities for students to practice applying their newly learned skills. The program uses personal stories from young adults who have resisted drug use with great success. It is adaptable to different cultural contexts and backgrounds, making Keepin’ it REAL a valuable tool to promote drug prevention across different communities. It also addresses coping skills, ways to assess risk, support networks, and emotional and mental health topics.

The program is having a real impact. According to a study by Arizona State University, (in which 35 schools and 6,035 students were followed using a pretest and multiple post-tests—two-, eight-, and 18- month follow-up), the intervention was judged to be positively effective, evidenced by statistically significant reduction in gateway drug use as well as increased beneficial changes in norms, attitudes, and resistance strategies.

Substance abuse continues to be a significant public health concern, impacting individuals, families, and school members. We must look for ways to address the issues head-on. Since its adoption, more than 250 communities across the United States have launched the kiR program.

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