A Modern Approach To Drug Education

By Paul Gaita 06/05/18

A California-based nonprofit's modern approach to drug and alcohol education is garnering positive feedback from students and parents alike. 

students raising their hands in a classroom

NPR profiled Being Adept, a non-profit, research- and science-based organization that provides alcohol and drug prevention education to more than 3,000 students in California.

Adept's approach is markedly different from drug education campaigns of the past, which emphasized total abstinence through "scare" tactics; the organization's curriculum focuses on scientific findings that provide students with facts about the long-term health risks of drug use, and allows them to make informed decisions about their own future.

As NPR notes, Adept's strategy has been met with positive response from students and parents alike.

As an example of Adept's focus, the NPR piece covers an instructor's presentation for a class of eighth-graders in Larkspur, California. Instructor Ashley Brady opens the session by informing the students that she "is not here to tell you what to do today."

From there, she provides a wealth of information that focuses on the impact of marijuana use on brain and body chemistry. Warnings about the side effects of edibles and concentrates on developing brains as well as the strength of THC levels in newer strains of cannabis and the possibility for dependency issues, are offered as fact-based information—modern cannabis is "not the same drug" as the marijuana consumed in the 1970s, Brady said—and without caveat.

Other classes provide students with strategies to real-world scenarios in which they might encounter marijuana or other drugs—what to do at a party, or ways to cope with stress or emotion without drugs.

The approach lacks the authoritarian tone that many previous prevention programs embraced; if there's a key component to how Being Adept talks about drugs, it's "delay, delay, delay," said founder and psychotherapist Jennifer Grellman.

"The way to handle that with your kids is to say: 'you know, you don't have to do this now. Maybe you want to use it someday, but not today, not now. It will always be there.' Just tell them to wait," she explained. 

Parents are also included in Being Adept's curriculum through a special "Parents Night" presentation, where responses like Grellman's are offered as guidance for those who have expressed concerns over the right way to talk about drugs with children. The program also emphasizes honesty in words and actions—drinking responsibly in front of children, and being honest about their own drug and alcohol use as teenagers.

"You don't have to tell the full story," noted Grellman. "You could say, 'I did smoke, or I did drink, when I was 13. And you know, frankly? It was too early for me. I made some stupid decisions and I got in trouble.' You can give them the consequences of it."

Students at the Larkspur presentation appeared to appreciate the program's approach. "It made you feel more mature," said 13-year-old Devon Soofer. "This class was actually telling you the long-term effects and what it can actually do to you. So it actually made you feel like, 'Wow, this actually really bad,' and not just being forced not to do it."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.