The Politics of Drug Education

A lot of drug education is based on what Carl Rogers calls the “jug and mug” theory of education.[1] That is, the instructor (the jug) is seen as possessing knowledge that needs to be poured into the students (the mugs). The requisite knowledge is defined by the powers-that-be as information about drugs, particularly about the potential harms that might result from drug use. Generally, the “jug” exercises power over the “mug” through a combination of rewards (grades and career opportunities) and punishments (failure and fear). In the context of drug education, many of the incentives have little influence, so there has been an over-dependence on fear as a primary mechanism of power and control. As a result drug education focuses predominantly on negative consequences – often over-stating these.  And punishments for drug offences are often more severe than for other potentially harmful behaviours.

The iMinds Health Literacy Resource draws on Carl Rogers’ humanistic person-centred approach to education in combination with Bandura’s social cognitive theory.

Traditional drug education has not been very effective. There is an alternative. In developing iMinds, we have drawn on Rogers’ humanistic person-centred approach to education in combination with Bandura’s social cognitive theory. Essential to this approach is the presence of learning facilitators who trust that people can think for themselves. The other major element of this alternative approach involves striking a balance between a person’s autonomy and their social interdependence – what we sometimes call “the frog and the pond.” We need to be interested in the individual in terms of capacity and resilience (“the frog”). But we also need to give attention to the social, cultural and political dynamics of the classroom, school and community (“the pond”).

Both of these critical elements are “political” in nature in that they have to do with power, control and the making of choices. Humanistic education gives the power to the student. It is about preparing young people to be citizens – participants in our democratic institutions. As one writer puts it: “If democracy is to work, its citizens must be educated. They must know how to gather information, distinguish fact from opinion, analyze propaganda, understand many different viewpoints, understand justice, think for themselves, communicate their opinions clearly, and work with others for the common good.”[2] This seems like a good road map for drug education.

There are several rational reasons why a person might choose to use a drug. But the impact of that use almost always is affected by many factors related to the drug, the person using the drug and the social and physical context in which the drug is used. Drug education is not about saving young people from the evils of drugs or protecting them from the dangers of drugs. The stakes are far greater. Drug education involves giving young people the power to make decisions and helping them to develop the skills to make good decisions that will enhance their own lives, the lives of their peers, and the lives of those who come after them.

If we know that simply pouring out our knowledge about the risks involved is not effective, maybe it is time to give up the illusion of power and try a different approach.

[1] Rogers, C. (1983). Freedom to Learn for the 80’s. Toronto: Collier Macmillan Canada, p. 187.
[2] Herron, J. (1999). The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook. London: Kogan Page, p. 4.

Dan Reist


Author: Dan Reist, Assistant Director (Knowledge Exchange), Centre for Addictions Research of BC


**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

iMinds: Resources for Today’s Classrooms

Because a “just say no” kind of approach just doesn’t work

Once upon a time, I saw a cartoon that featured a teenager deciding what T-shirt to put on — one said “Just Do It!” and the other said “Just Say No!” This image, while humourous in some respects, prompted me, and no doubt other viewers, to reflect on the mixed signals young people face — and more importantly, what we (the “royal we”) can do to help them navigate this complex world successfully.

When it comes to substance-use education, mock car crashes and other fear-based tactics — while well-intentioned — achieve little in terms of promoting healthy behaviours and, worse, often limit if not prevent more meaningful opportunities for honest conversation about a behaviour that’s been around for thousands of years and remains steeped in today’s cultural practices.

What does show promise when it comes to helping youth avoid problematic substance use and generally thrive is a focus on helping young people develop the knowledge and skills (aka health literacy) they need in today’s world. But the question is, how do we do that? Enter iMinds, a series of learning resources developed for BC schools by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC in collaboration with school professionals and other partners.

These learning resources are designed to give young people an opportunity to:

  • understand the long relationship between humans and drugs such as caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol
  • analyze social and environmental influences related to drug use and other lifestyle choices
  • extend their thinking by personalizing and explaining relationships among ideas and information related to drug use
  • use a variety of communication skills to gather, evaluate and explain information and ideas related to successfully navigating a drug-using world
  • describe strategies for attaining and maintaining physical, emotional and social health

In keeping with current education literature related to cross-curricular competencies and 21st century learning, iMinds helps teachers engage students in honest, thoughtful discussions and projects that involve issues relevant to their daily lives. Teachers, rather than needing to be “drug experts,” can do what teachers do best – create a context of enquiry that can lead to more meaningful and engaging learning.

Drawing on a social-ecological model, iMinds is based on the idea that awareness, actions, decisions and behaviours (including but not limited to substance use) are influenced by multiple factors, such as personal factors that require self-management skills, relationships requiring social skills, and the physical and cultural environment requiring navigational skills. By addressing all three areas, students develop healthy connectedness – a sense of autonomy and social belonging.

In addition to iMinds, CARBC has developed other resources for school professionals and their partners, including an app and related online learning resource related to drugs and driving. And since education, while important, is not sufficient, the Centre has also developed resources to support a comprehensive approach to promoting health and addressing substance use. For more, visit:

Author: Cindy Andrew, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.