Research Behind
keepin’ it REAL

D.A.R.E.’s keepin’ it REAL program, backed by rigorous research and prevention science, is designed to equip young people with skills for healthy decision-making, going beyond traditional anti-drug programs.

Rethinking D.A.R.E.

Since its inception in 1983, D.A.R.E. had been a cornerstone of substance-abuse prevention education in U.S. schools. However, multiple studies over the years showed limited effectiveness of the original curriculum.

Recognizing the need for change, D.A.R.E. America, the nonprofit organization that administers the program — adopted the keepin’ it REAL curriculum in 2009.

Brandywine Heights High School in Topton, Pennsylvania

The New Approach

keepin’ it REAL differs significantly from
the old D.A.R.E. curriculum.

The New Approach

Long, fact-heavy lectures have been replaced with interactive lessons and story-based activities aimed at helping kids make smart decisions. The focus has shifted from drugs to decisions, addressing underlying causes of substance abuse such as peer pressure, effective communication, bullying, risk and consequences, and stress.

In addition to the core curriculum, D.A.R.E. is committed to providing lessons on relevant topics like bullying, cyber security, narcotics, and prescription drug abuse. These lessons are designed to address the evolving challenges faced by today’s youth.

Instructors now speak for about eight minutes during each lesson, allowing students more time to practice decision-making skills in activities with their peers. As a result, students learn ways to say no to friends: Refuse, Explain, Avoid, and Leave (REAL).


Evidence-Based Success

The keepin’ it REAL curriculum isn’t just a new approach; it’s a proven one.

Evidence-Based Success

The keepin’ it REAL curriculum isn’t just a new approach; it’s a proven one.

A three-year research study conducted by the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and Prevention Strategies shows promising results. The studies indicate that the new curriculum has been successful in reducing substance abuse and maintaining anti-drug attitudes among students — an achievement that largely eluded the former iteration of the program.

keepin' it REAL Endorsements

Emphasizing its evidence-based approach and inclusion in a national program registry.

keepin’ it REAL Endorsements

Richard Clayton, a retired prevention researcher from the University of Kentucky, once criticized D.A.R.E. but later became instrumental in implementing science-based improvements to the program. After joining D.A.R.E.’s board of directors and chairing its scientific advisory council — now populated with prevention researchers — Clayton helped shift the program’s approach from lecturing to interactive learning, aligning it with evidence from literature on effective prevention methods. He commends D.A.R.E.’s transformation as “pretty amazing”.

Additionally, the Surgeon General has commended the efficacy of D.A.R.E.’s keepin’ it REAL curriculum. It’s based on proven behavior-change techniques and has been selected from over 200 listings on a national registry of evidence-based programs maintained by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.