When asked to consider talking to their children about drugs, many parents voice a common concern that telling kids about drugs will make them more likely to try drugs. However, a new study published in this month's issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health reports that this fear may be unfounded. Researchers from the University of Washington Social Development Research Group examined surveys on drug use conducted on fifth- and sixth-grade students and found that students who took these surveys were not more likely to use drugs.

The surveys were administered to 2,000 students from seven states in 2004. Students were asked a variety of written questions about their recent and lifetime use of marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, and inhalants. Out of all the sixth-graders who also took the survey in fifth grade, 20.8% had used alcohol, around 10% had used cigarettes or inhalants, and 2.6% had used cannabis.

Sixth-graders who had not taken the survey in the fifth grade actually had higher usage rates than those who took the earlier survey. Over 23% of these students said that they had used alcohol, and 12.6% said they had smoked pot. If being asked about drugs had increased the likelihood of these children using drugs, the group who had been surveyed twice would have had higher drug use rates, not the other way around.

“The study answered an important question — whether asking about substance use at a young age encourages use,” said lead author John Briney. “We didn’t think it would, and the data show that asking about drug use doesn’t increase use.” Briney added that he hopes the study will put “community members at ease about collecting data in the schools for prevention purposes.”

Student surveys are “a relatively unobtrusive, inexpensive method to gather data,” Briney said. “Communities can use data to guide prevention efforts and not worry they’re harming students.” Briney recommends performing further research by administering the study to older students, as well as students in canna-legal states, to see if the outcomes are different.