The D.A.R.E. program has three main goals. First, D.A.R.E. seeks to provide students with a knowledge base on the effects of drug abuse that go beyond the physical ramifications and extend to emotional, social, and economic aspects of life. Secondly, D.A.R.E. aims to build decision-making and problem solving skills and strategies to help students make informed decisions and resist drug use, peer pressure, and violence. Lastly, an integral part of the D.A.R.E. program is to provide students with alternatives to drug use.
D.A.R.E. is a universal program designed to reach the general population, rather than "at risk" groups, and it is most often implemented in the fifth and sixth grades. Research has shown this to be a time when children are very receptive to anti-drug messages, particularly as they approach the age associated with drug experimentation. The curriculum focuses on knowledge and skill development in seven areas: 1) cognitive information, 2) recognizing pressures, 3) refusal skills, 4) consequential thinking and risk taking, 5) interpersonal and communication skills, 6) decision making, 7) positive alternatives. Some of the D.A.R.E. lessons focus on raising awareness in these skill areas, while others emphasize their practical application.
D.A.R.E. is instinctive in its approach in that specially trained, uniformed police officers conduct the lessons in the classroom. By employing law enforcement officers to teach the curriculum, D.A.R.E. brings the firsthand accounts of the officers' experiences from the street to the classroom. It is this unique aspect of the program that not only intrigues students but also helps to foster a positive relationship between the students and police officers. While officers actually conduct the D.A.R.E. lessons, a licensed teacher is required to be present in the classroom. That teacher is expected to reinforce the D.A.R.E. material by integrating its objectives into the general curriculum for the particular grade level. It is believed that this will strengthen the students' understanding of the D.A.R.E. objectives and increase their confidence in applying those skills in a variety of situations.
The lessons provide factual information about drugs, with an emphasis on gateway drugs (marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco), and teach refusal skills through role-playing and other techniques. Since its inception, D.A.R.E. has undergone revisions as a result of research findings and is now more interactive, promoting active student participation. Additionally, D.A.R.E. has broadened its focus to include conflict resolution and gang prevention, and has expanded to encompass programs for parent education and after-school recreation and learning.