Media Literacy’s Role in Prevention

Media Literacy as an Approach to Substance Abuse Prevention

Given the importance of media influence in the lives of young people, a relatively new but promising approach to substance abuse prevention has been examined in several studies (DeBenedittis, Loughery, McCannon, & Goldsborough, 2000; Austin & Johnson, 1997a, 1997b; Slater, Rouner, Murphy, Beauvais, Van Leuven, & Domenech-Rodriquez, 1996). This new approach focuses primarily on the powerful role of the media as an influence on children’s use of alcohol and other drugs.

Recent findings suggest that media literacy is a promising approach to school-based substance abuse intervention.
Among the various outcomes associated with media literacy training are:

  • Increased media skepticism (Kupersmidt, Barrett, Elmore, & Benson, 2007)

  • Increased perceived efficacy in resisting pro-drug media messages (Austin, Pinkleton, Hust, & Cohen, 2005)

  • Greater ability to produce counter-arguments to beer advertisements (Slater, et al., 1996)

  • Increased beliefs that smoking and drinking are “wrong” for teens (Kupersmidt, Feagans, Eisen, & Hicks, 2005)

  • Reduced middle school boys’ intentions to use alcohol and tobacco in the future (Kupersmidt, Feagans, Eisen, & Hicks, 2005; Barrett, Kupersmidt, Benson, & Elmore, 2007)

drug alcohol tobacco prevention media literacy

Despite such promising preliminary results, there is a shortage of theoretically driven and empirically tested curricula currently available. The NC DMHDDSAS contracted with innovation Research and Training to create an evidence-based substance abuse prevention program for use by North Carolina middle school teachers. The result is the Media Ready program.


Austin, E.W., & Johnson, K.K. (1997a). Effects of general and alcohol-specific media literacy training on children’s decision making about alcohol. Journal of Health Communication, 2(1), 17-42.

Austin, E.W., & Johnson, K.K. (1997b). Immediate and delayed effects of media literacy training on third grader’s decision making for alcohol. Health Communication, 9(4), 323-349.

Austin, E. W., Pinkleton, B. E., Hust, S. J. T., & Cohen, M. (2005). Evaluation of an American Legacy Foundation/Washington State Department of Health media literacy pilot study. Health Communication, 18(1), 75.

Barrett, T.M., Kupersmidt, J.B., Benson, J.W., & Elmore, K.C. (2007). Evaluation of the North Carolina Middle School, Media Literacy, Substance Abuse Prevention Project. Poster presented at the first Research Summit of the Alliance for a Media Literate America, St. Louis, MO.

DeBenedittis, P., Loughery, M., McCannon, B., & Goldsborough, S. (2000). Alcohol prevention children love to learn! Paper presented at the Alcohol Policy XII Conference, Alcohol & Crime, Research for Practice and Prevention, Washington, D.C.

Ellickson, P. L., Collins, R.L., Hambarsoomians, K., & McCaffrey, D.F. (2005). Does alcohol advertising promote adolescent drinking? Results from a longitudinal assessment. Addiction, 100(2), 235-246.

Kupersmidt, J.B., Scull, T.M., & Austin, E.A. (2010). Media literacy education for elementary school substance use prevention: Randomized efficacy study of Media Detective. Pediatrics, 126(3). (DOI: 10.1542/2010-0068).

Kupersmidt, J.B., Barrett, T.M., Elmore, K.C., & Benson, J.W. (2007). Preliminary Findings from the Evaluation of the Elementary Media Literacy, Substance Abuse Prevention Project. Paper presented at the first Research Summit of the Alliance for a Media Literate America, St. Louis, MO.

Kupersmidt, J., Feagans, L., Eisen, M., & Hicks, R. (May, 2005). The North Carolina Media Literacy Education Program: An evaluation. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Intervention Research, Washington, D.C.

Rideout, V., Roberts, D.F., & Foehr, U.G. (2005). Generation m: Media in the lives of 8-18 year-olds. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Scull, T.M., Kupersmidt, J.B., & Weatherholt, T.N. (2017). The effectiveness of online, family-based media literacy education for substance abuse prevention in elementary school children: Study of the Media Detective Family Program. Journal of Community Psychology;00:1–14.

Scull, T.M. & Kupersmidt, J.B. (2011). An evaluation of a media literacy program training workshop for late elementary school teachers. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2(3). 199-208.

Slater, M.D., Rouner, D., Murphy, K., Beauvais, F., Van Leuven, J., & Domenech-Rodriguez, M.M. (1996). Adolescent counterarguing of tv beer advertisements: Evidence for effectiveness of alcohol education and critical viewing discussions. Journal of Drug Education, 26(2), 143-158.