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Telling Addicts To ‘Just Say No’ Proves Ineffective

A study from Indiana University researchers finds negative messaging does not get through to drug and alcohol addicts like positive messaging.

An Indiana University brain researcher has found negative messaging may not help people beat drug and alcohol addiction.

The study hooked drug addicts up to a machine which measures activity in various regions of the brain. Joshua Brown, who helped run the study, says there were some visible changes when addicts were presented with positive messages instead of negative ones.

“If you tell people ‘hey this is a better option’ then whenever they think about the worst option, you’ll see more brain activity that seems to represent something of the danger of choosing the worst option,” Brown says. “We’re not saying that the people who are dependent on drugs respond worse to negatively framed messages, they actually respond about as well to the negative messages as to the positive messages.”

Brown and his colleges have partnered with Center Stone to help improve their treatment techniques. Linda Grove- Paul works with addicts at Centerstone’s recovery engagement center and says Brown’s study is a confirmation that negative messaging, such as the Reagan-era “Just Say No” campaign, was ineffective.

“The study is a show that have been doing it wrong for 30 years, and that’s really what is so exciting about getting the data and again really reinforcing that with hard science,” Grove-Paul says.

Alana Luttrull was a drug addict when she came to Centerstone more than two years ago.  She has been clean since 2010 and remembers positive messages impacting her decision to stay sober.

“If you sit them down and say ‘if you do these things, you’re life can be so much better than it is right now and you know is that the kind of life you want?’ And they say ‘Yeah, that’s what I want. I want these things in my life.’ Luttrull says. “Then they can really embrace that.”

The study was published in the journal Psychology and Addictive Behaviors.

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