Single Question Could Lead to Drug Use

But why did they step it up, since research suggested just the opposite result?

"We thought that when we asked the question about exercising and using drugs that these were positive and negative examples of health behavior," Fitzsimons says. "But what we didn't realize is that certain folks have a more complicated view of drugs. They may report that drugs aren't good, that they are bad things, but deep down at a gut level they have a positive attitude toward engaging in the use of drugs.

"It was a very different result because we had inadvertently tapped into this gut level positive attitude."

They viewed drugs positively, Fitzsimons notes, or they wouldn't have been using them. So, simply asking the question stimulated the use of more drugs.

That indicates that if you don't really know the person you're interrogating, you could get a very different result and the question could "backfire," he adds.

"You actually end up doing harm."

So, going back to the home environment, has the parent really done any harm by asking the child if he or she is doing drugs?

Maybe, if that's where the discussion ends, Fitzsimons says.

But if, on the other hand, that question led to a dialogue between parent and child, the results should be quite different.

"If you talk to your child and engage in a dialogue about the pros and cons, that's going to be an entirely different thing," he says. "We found that when you move into a dialogue, you don't get these surprising increases in behavior."

But it doesn't always work out that way.

"The thing I really worry about is the one-time question, seemingly innocuous, that never gets returned to," Fitzsimons says. "That's where we're going to observe these negative effects on behavior."

He poses this scenario:

"Mom asks Johnny, 'are you doing drugs?' Johnny answers, 'oh, no, mom.' End of discussion. That's really dangerous.

"You know Johnny has thought about it."

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