Failed Anti-Drug PSA’s From the 80’s

We have all seen the slew on anti-drug PSA’s throughout the years, some of them have gone down in history as jokes, and others are still referenced to this day. Anti-drug public service announcements have covered everything from marijuana, crack cocaine to prescription opioids most recently. Whether a PSA is effective or becomes a meme is hard to judge, but we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular anti-drug PSA’s over the past few decades. One thing we know so far is that the PSAs with no educational value, shoddy scare tactics, and little compassion aren’t nearly as effective as their creators would like to think.

Michael Jordan’s McDonald’s Anti-Drug PSA

In 1987 Michael Jordan and McDonald’s teamed up to release an anti-drug PSA. The message was aimed at children and young adults. There isn’t much helpful information given throughout the minute-long announcement, besides that many of the people doing drugs at the time are under 18. The PSA says those abusing drugs at a young age are only “cheating yourself of finding out who you really can be.” Michael goes on to say that if you don’t use drugs, you can be anything you want to be. What about those who are already addicted? Young adults and adults alike, often become addicted before the age of 18 or are already at risk for substance use disorders.

At the end of the video, Michael says “If you’re doing it (drugs), stop it. Get some help.” There are no resources given in the video or any information on how to get help. If addiction was so easy to stop, nobody would be addicted. Being an anti-drug PSA, it would be more informative than the simple “don’t do drugs” message, or the “because if you do, you’ll never meet your full potential.” This idea, however, stigmatizes those suffering from substance use disorders more. Needless to say; the addiction epidemic hasn’t stopped or dwindled since this PSA.

I Learned it by Watching you!

Another PSA from 1987 was the infamous “Like Father, Like Son” video. It aired as a commercial and the tagline was “I learned it by watching you!” The message behind the video was that parents who do drugs have kids who do drugs. Which, unfortunately, sometimes is the case. There are also many children who grew up in households with drug abuse and alcoholism and never pick up a drink or a drug because they didn’t want to be like their parents. There are also kids who have parents that have never used drugs in their life and still use drugs.

In households where drug use is known about by the adults or isn’t addressed, there is a higher chance that the children in that home will develop substance abuse disorders. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America knew this when they made the video; their goal was to stop parents from using drugs. Many times, someone suffering from a substance use disorder thinks that they are only hurting themselves, it’s the selfish nature of the disease. Those suffering don’t think about the effect it will have on their children or that it may influence them negatively. Again, in this PSA they give no resources. If a parent were to see this PSA who has no resources about what to do regarding their substance use, they are left feeling guilt and shame after watching the PSA. Many of these PSAs have no information and are just aimed to stir up emotions in the audience. Stirring up people’s emotions is good if it elicits positive action or change. This campaign was effective in that regard but offers little in the way of a concrete solution.

Clint Eastwood “It can kill you” Anti-Drug PSA”

Clint Eastwood is known for his no-nonsense attitude and intense stare. That attitude is why he was chosen to do an anti-drug PSA about the brutal crack epidemic of the 1980’s. Clint Eastwood starts off the PSA by saying, “You see this cute little vial here? It contains crack – rock cocaine, the most addictive form.” Those 2 sentences are the extent of information given in the PSA, other than that crack can kill you. This time the PSAs took on a darker tone, it was when the scare tactics tried to be utilized to scare people who are dabbling in the lifestyle of drug use. The other common theme is that there is once again no information or resources for those already struggling with substance use disorders.

Scare tactics were the only route that was used at this point. Think “Scared Straight” but for drugs. Many people were already deep in their addiction when these commercials were coming out. The pattern that follows with all these PSAs is that there was no information on how to stop, how to get help and how to get back into sobriety.

This is Your Brain on Drugs

One of the more popular anti-drug PSAs that has come out is, “This is your brain on drugs.” The PSA has a man holding an egg saying, “This is your brain.” He then points to the hot skillet and says, “This is drugs.” He then cracks the egg into the pan where it immediately fries in the hot butter and says, “This is your brain on drugs.” He follows it up by asking “Any questions?” Once again there were no resources, there was no actual educational value besides the obvious that drugs are damaging to your body and mind.

The scare tactic that they tried to use with this PSA is that drugs will “fry” your brain, which can be the case. Drugs can cause lasting damage to the brain but through long-term sobriety, most of the damage can heal. For the person already using drugs or who wants to stop using drugs but can’t stop this does nothing. Prevention is crucial when it comes to substance use, but part of that prevention is also education. There is no education involved in this PSA. If prevention fails and it does, what about those already struggling with substance use disorders? We know that the famous Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” campaign did not work. The idea behind the just say no campaign is not to begin using substances. The only defense given to adolescents was the word no and various ways to say no. The people who didn’t “just say no” and are now suffering from substance use disorders. Why are those with substance use disorders not shown that same compassion and empathy? Addicts are still people, and there should be an effort made to help them as well. Everyone deserves to be educated on how to get help to live a better life.

Moving Forward with Prevention

The days of uninformative, scare tactic filled PSAs are far from over. While there are many more resources today, these campaigns are still using scare tactics to get their point across. Unfortunately, many more people are dying due to substance use disorders. Scare tactics and minimal information haven’t worked in the 30 years that these PSAs have been around. It is time to change them.

What we can begin to do is to educate the public. A large part of prevention is to teach people as to what happens, how it can affect your life and the truth about addiction that it isn’t a moral deficiency. There are many people still struggling with substance use disorders today, what can we do for them? Again, education is the answer. We can give them resources, numbers to call, meeting lists, any information is helpful. We cannot save people who do not want to be saved, but we can at least give them the tools needed to help themselves.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, contact us today at (855) 448-3588. We can educate you and your family about addiction and how to live a life of sobriety. You can heal, we can help.