The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention: What You Didn't Know

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) is a massively-funded federal agency that promotes the reduction-of-consumption approach to reduce alcohol problems: "Less alcohol is always still too much alcohol."

Disregard for Law

To promote the reduction of consumption the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention has repeatedly broken the law. At the request of 115 members of Congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO) investigated CSAP and found it guilty of illegally using taxpayer money to lobby Congress. Shortly thereafter, the GAO again found the Center guilty of illegally using taxpayer money, this time for grassroots lobbying. 1 So not only is CSAP aggressive but it's also very determined and persistent.

Although it is illegal to use tax dollars for publicity or propaganda purposes or for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before Congress, it appears that much of what CSAP does is exactly that. CSAP funded a how-to-lobby video for activists in numerous states about a California campaign to raise excise taxes on alcohol products and have some of the revenues from the tax earmarked for the very organizations that lobbied for it. CSAP published a booklet that demanded a 455% increase in the Federal tax on beer, reduction of the legal definition of drunkenness from an alcohol blood content of 0.10 to 0.04, and the legal requirement that beer ads be countered by taxpayer-funded anti-beer ads. CSAP-funded publications oppose designated drivers, for that would mean that someone (other than the driver) could drink, and "moderate" drinking also is said to be unacceptable. Alcohol prohibition clearly is CSAP's agenda, not merely responsible drinking or the elimination of drunk drivers. 2

Questionable Regard for Facts

The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention is widely considered to have a "third-rate intellectual reputation" and has been described as "scientifically illiterate." 3 Strong words, but its concern for accuracy is clearly questionable, at best. For example, a CSAP Bulletin falsely reported that 90% of all campus rapes involve alcohol. It got this statistical "fact" from an article in a University of Maine student newspaper, that source attributed it to a speaker at a lecture, who attributed it to a study in Ms. magazine. There was no such figure in the Ms. study. But CSAP never bothered to determine the credibility of the highly sensationalistic statistic that it found in a student newspaper, clearly not a scholarly source. 4 That degree of carelessness and reckless disregard for accuracy would probably earn an undergraduate student research paper a grade of F.

In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence from three different highly reliable nationwide surveys confirming yet again that (a) most college students either drink in moderation or abstain, (b) most college students drink safely, and (c) serious harm resulting from collegiate drinking is uncommon, 5 CSAP has subsequently begun widely distributing a new Prevention Alert titled The Binge Drinking Epidemic among college students. The Alert is full of alarmist language totally inconsistent with research over time demonstrating that fewer college students are drinking and that those who do drink are consuming at lower levels. 6

The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention promotes discredited theories such as poor maternal bonding as a risk factor for substance use. "Other discarded theories still incorporated in CSAP publications include low self-esteem and 'lack of cultural pride' as potent causal factors for youth drug use." 7


CSAP frequently engages in deception. For example, it asserts that alcohol is "the same as heroin," which it describes as "One of the most dangerous drugs and the one with the most addictive potential." The agency describes signs of drinking (not intoxication) as "impaired coordination, violent behavior or depression." All of this from as little as a single drink! 8

Drinking in moderation is associated with better health and greater longevity than is either abstaining or drinking abusively. But CSAP ignores this crucial distinction and describes the effects of drinking as "Brain, pancreas and kidney damage, elevated blood pressure, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, stomach and duodenum ulcers, colitis, irritable colon, sexual impotence and infertility, and premature death." CSAP needs to do its homework and learn the important differences between the effects of moderate drinking and drinking abusively. Either CSAP doesn't know the difference, as it should, or it wants to stigmatize all alcohol consumption. 9

CSAP is making a concerted effort to bring its version of alcohol education to every fifth grader in the entire United States. Teachers are instructed to

have students get into groups of two or three. Give each group an egg, a lab dish, and enough rubbing alcohol to cover the egg in the dish. Ask each group to crack the egg without breaking the yolk and to place it in the dish. One student in each group should pour the rubbing alcohol over the egg until it is covered. Ask students to leave the dishes alone while you continue your conversation (about the effects of alcohol). After 5 minutes, ask the students to look at their eggs. What changes have taken place in the eggs' color, consistency, etc.?

Follow-Up: Have student discuss what the changes in the eggs mean and how they relate to what you've been talking about. What effect does alcohol have on the cells of our bodies and brains? 10

This example of CSAP's deceptive pseudo-science is very similar to an “experiment" promoted by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) during the 1800's to frighten children and it is just as unscientific. However, the WCTU didn't fund its deception with taxpayer money.

As part of its program of "alcohol education" for fifth-graders, both teachers and parents are instructed to administer a true-false quiz on alcohol knowledge which is fatally compromised by both deceptive and blatantly incorrect information. 11

And the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention insists on misusing the term "binge," ignoring widespread objection by scientists, alcohol researchers, and other professionals. 12 The term "binge" traditionally and clinically refers to an extended period of intoxication, usually lasting at least two days, during which time the drinker neglects usual duties and responsibilities. CSAP's use of the term violates accepted usage and creates false and misleading impressions of reality. Unfortunately, CSAP's use of a very broad, virtually all-encompassing definition of binge casts too broad a net and fails to consider the period of consumption, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the size of the drinker, the sex of the drinker, or any of a number of other essential factors.

Indeed, by CSAP's usage, a completely sober person can be labeled a binger. The New York Times has pointed out that college students are advised by health educators to be responsible drinkers by consuming no more than one drink per hour. But since students typically attend social events for five or more hours at a time, that consumption rate would label them as bingers. Thus careful drinkers would be both responsible drinkers and bingers a the same time. 13 Clearly, misusing the term "binge" as CSAP does is useful only to those who wish to deceive and mislead. But if the agency can't convince Congress and the public that alcohol problems are an "epidemic" threatening to destroy the future of our young people, then it's funding might not be increased.

Mixed Messages

The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention has identified all of the following statements as sending dangerous mixed messages and to be avoided: 14

  • Alcohol helps many people relax or be more sociable at parties.
  • Any substance, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It is only the improper use, misuse, or abuse of substances that is bad.
  • It's fine to relax with a beer at the end of a hard day. But know your limit. Many people use alcohol in social settings to relax and to celebrate special occasions. There is nothing wrong with social drinking as long as one stays within moderation and does not drive after drinking.
  • Part of growing up is learning how to make wise decisions. If you choose to drink, drink responsibly. Don't overdo it. And don't drink and drive.
  • If you want to teach your children to be responsible with alcohol, be a responsible drinker yourself.

These statements are all completely correct and not a single one misleads. They offend CSAP because they are inconsistent with the abstinence teachings that it promotes.

In reality, all of the supposedly dangerous statements listed above are characteristic of societies in which drinking is common but in which alcohol abuse is uncommon. Far from being dangerous, they are actually protective of alcohol abuse and they should be promoted rather than discredited. Suppressing them promotes alcohol abuse!

The current concern over mixed messages is not new. Earlier temperance advocates thought that alcohol was a dangerous poison that should never be consumed. But doctors routinely prescribed alcohol for its health and therapeutic benefits. Therefore, temperance leaders insisted that books never ever mention this fact because it would send a "mixed message." Ideology prevailed over truth and balance then as it does now.

The concern over preventing mixed messages rather than in promoting the truth reveals a desire to indoctrinate rather than to educate. It reveals a distrust in the intelligence of people and in their ability to think and reason. It reveals a desire to suppress facts and hide knowledge. And it is inconsistent with helping people make well-informed decisions based on the best available evidence. It may be useful in a dictatorship, but not in a free society.

Waste of Money

Dr. Sally Satel of the Yale University School of Medicine discovered that a one million dollar project funded by CSAP resulted in an evaluation report that "read like a high school science project." According to the report, "Unfortunately, many students did not have either a pretest, a post-test, or lacked both. Thus, change could not be measured." And some of the data actually collected could not be located. So there were no results to report and another million dollars of taxpayer money was wasted by CSAP. 15

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on demonstration projects that include no measures for determining success or failure. Perhaps that's to be expected. CSAP's grants have been condemned for being "merely a set of port barrel programs" for political constituents and supporters. 16

Ideological Blinders

The powerful agency doesn't take kindly to any suggestion that the programs it funds should be scientifically evaluated to determine their effectiveness in reducing alcohol and drug problems. A noted scholar, Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers, was invited to speak at a CSAP conference to discuss whether the agency should fund "Boy Talk," a program designed to prevent drug abuse and other problems among young males. The proposed program was patterned after "Girl Power," an existing program funded by CSAP. And then it happened --

An hour or so into the Boy Talk conference, things got ugly. The audience -- largely populated by agency staff and invited consultants, CSAP grantees -- was hostile to Sommers' insistence that data be used to inform the creation of a new program. It all boiled over when one of the invited grantees yelled "Shut the f**k up, bitch." Derisive audience laughter followed. Not a word of admonition was spoken to the abusive "guest," not a murmer of apology offered to Sommers. 17

A tape recording of the incident reveals that a CSAP official had suddenly interrupted Dr. Sommers and insisted that she not raise questions about the effectiveness of "Girl Power," the counterpart of the "Boy Talk" program that was being proposed for funding. The culprit who shouted to Dr. Sommers to "Shut the f**k up, bitch" said that CSAP didn't want anyone criticizing "Girl Power." 18 Of course it would be difficult to discuss the "Boy Talk" proposal without discussing the effectiveness of the program after which it was modeled. 19

What is "Girl Power" and why were CSAP officials so adamantly opposed to any discussion whatsoever of its effectiveness in achieving its purported purpose?

The highly questionable premise of the Girl Power program is that making girls less traditionally feminine will somehow cause them to be less likely to smoke, take drugs, or get pregnant. Of course, most people would expect the opposite effect. Isn't it precisely because girls are nowadays less bound by traditional codes of feminine behavior that we are seeing increases in smoking, drug-taking, and premarital sex among girls? 20

But if the real purpose of "Girl Power" and "Boy Talk" is not to reduce substance abuse but to promote sexual androgyny, then the strong reaction of CSAP makes sense. 21 And the reaction was very strong indeed.

Abuse of Citizens

Unfortunately, Dr Sommers is not the only victim of CSAP's wrath. One researcher

...refused to put his government project officer (CSAP employee responsible for overseeing contracts) on a paper written for a peer-reviewed journal. "She made no substantial intellectual contribution and so she deserved no attribution," he said. As punishment, she saw to it that his company lost a several million dollar contract and the offending officer was never reprimanded. 22

To make matters worse, the taxpayer bill for this incompetence, misbehavior, and abuse of power is about half a billion dollars per year! This is money that should be going into determining empirically exactly what type of programs are effective or ineffective in reducing alcohol abuse instead of being diverted into ideologically-based social engineering programs not authorized by Congress. Little wonder that there's been a call to abolish the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. 23


  • 1. Ending Taxpayer-Subsidized Lobbying by Neo-Prohibitionists. (
  • 2. DiLorenzo, T.J. and Bennett, J.T. The U.S. is becoming a nanny state. USA Today (Magazine) , 1998 (May), 126(2636), 12-15.
  • 3. Kurtz. S. Abolish CSAP! National Review (December 11, 2001); Satel, S. The Sorry CSAP Flap: It's Worse Than It Looks. Tech Central Station (12-7-01),
  • 4. Hiaring, P. E. Mi casa es su casa? Wines & Vines, 1994, 75(1), 12.
  • 5. The National College Health Assessment (American College Health Association), the Core Alcohol and Drug survey (Core Institute of Alcohol and Drug Studies at Southern Illinois University), and the Monitoring The Future study (conducted by the Survey Research Center, University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse). The drinking behavior of nearly 75,000 college and university students across the entire United States was studied by these three surveys. The findings corroborate earlier research by the same as well as other studies that alcohol use among college students is generally moderate and safe with serious problems from alcohol being uncommon.
  • 6. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Action Alert "The Binge Drinking Epidemic. Washington DC: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2002.
  • 7. Stoil, M.J. Government's best intentions go awry (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention). Behavioral Health Management, 2000, 20(2), 9.
  • 8. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. A Toolkit for Hispanic/Latino Community Groups. Washington, DC: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. See table titled "Learn About Alcohol, Tobacco, & Illicit Drugs."
  • 9. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. A Toolkit for Hispanic/Latino Community Groups. Washington, DC: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), U.S. Department of Health and Social Services. See table titled "Learn About Alcohol, Tobacco, & Illicit Drugs."
  • 10. Center on Substance Abuse Prevention and Scholastic, Inc. Reach Out Now: Talk with Your Fifth Graders About Underage Drinking. Guides for teachers and parents. Washington, DC: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and Scholastic, Inc., 2003.
  • 11. Center on Substance Abuse Prevention and Scholastic, Inc. Reach Out Now: Talk with Your Fifth Graders About Underage Drinking. Guides for teachers and parents. Washington, DC: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and Scholastic, Inc., 2003.
  • 12. Calling for accurate reporting of student alcohol consumption, the Inter-Association Task Force on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse Issues, a coalition of 21 higher education associations, issued a proclamation asking members of their associations, government agencies such as CSAP, and researchers to refrain from further use of the term "binge drinking" in describing student alcohol use.
  • 13. The Attack on Campus Drinking. New York Times, September 27, 1999, p. A26 (editorial).
  • 14. Center for substance Abuse Prevention Communications Team. Technical Assistance Bulletin: You Can Avoid Common Errors as You Develop Prevention Materials. Washington DC: National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, 1994 (
  • 15. Satel, S. The Sorry CSAP Flap: It's Worse Than It Looks. Tech Central Station (12-7-01),
  • 16. Stoil, M.J. Government's best intentions go awry (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention). Behavioral Health Management, 2000, 20(2), 9.
  • 17. Satel, S. The Sorry CSAP Flap: It's Worse Than It Looks. Tech Central Station (12-7-01),
  • 18. Carnell. B. Should Christina Hoff Sommers "Shut the F--- Up"? Equity Feminism (12-10-01)
  • 19. Kurtz, S. Silencing Sommers. National Review Online (12-5-01)
  • 20. Kurtz, S. Silencing Sommers. National Review Online (12-5-01)
  • 21. Kurtz, S. Silencing Sommers. National Review Online (12-5-01)
  • 22. Satel, S. The Sorry CSAP Flap: It's Worse Than It Looks. Tech Central Station (12-7-01),
  • 23. Kurtz, S. Abolish CSAP! National Review Online (12-11-01),
  • Listing does not imply endorsement.
  • Carnell, B. Should Christina Hoff Sommers "Shut the F_ _ _ _ Up"?,
  • Ending Taxpayer Subsidized Lobbying by Neo-Prohibitionists,
  • Kurtz, S. Silencing Sommers,
  • Kurtz, S. Abolish CSAP!,
  • Satel, S. the Sorry CSAP Flap: It's Worse Than It Looks,