NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Brain and Addiction

In this activity, first present the students with a list to memorize (on whiteboard or flip chart). Tell the students they have 1 minute only to memorize the list. Then, after 1 minute, take the list away. Have the students write down as many as they can remember. Have them call them out and write them on the board. Ask them how many they got correct. Use this activity as a lead-in to the discussion questions below.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is learning? How do you learn? What do you think happens in your brain when you learn something? (Answers will vary: Learning is saving information in your brain so you can retrieve it later. Learning is training your brain. Learning is building branches in your brain so neurons can communicate faster and better.)
  2. Describe how you would teach your brain something. Is there something you could do that would make you learn faster or better? (Give examples of learning new things, such as memorize the Declaration of Independence; memorize words to a cool new song; shoot a free throw in basketball; play a song on the piano. Answers will vary, but mostly practice, either by doing something physical or mental, again and again. Repetition is key, as is reward or feedback. Learning is easier when your efforts are rewarded, such as being cheered when you shoot a free throw in a basketball game. To learn to do something faster or better, spend more time doing it or perform more repetitions. Give yourself a reward each time you do the thing successfully.)
  3. How does drug abuse “teach” the brain? (Drug abuse floods the brain with neurotransmitters. Drug abuse interferes with normal brain functioning. Drug abuse causes the brain to change and remember intense feelings of pleasure. Drug abuse changes the amount of neurotransmitter or the way neurotransmitters are used in the brain without drugs. Drug abuse changes the physical structure of the brain.)
  4. Why is drug addiction a brain disease? (By using drugs, a person has allowed a drug to “teach” the brain that drugs are responsible for pleasure. With addiction, the brain has changed to a point that normal life cannot give the person pleasure.)
  5. How could someone end up getting addicted to drugs? (This is meant to be a thought-provoking question that gets students to discuss why kids might start using drugs, how the decision to start using is voluntary but becomes involuntary as people keep using drugs, and how hard it is to overcome this addiction. It is hoped that everyone will arrive at the conclusion that it’s easier to never start using drugs. Answers will vary. Drugs produce intense feelings of pleasure. Drugs of abuse stimulate the part of our brain that is responsible for feelings of appetite and drive. To get off drugs, people have to work against those strong feelings.)
Student Quiz: 

Once your students have reviewed the information in Facts on Drugs: Brain and Addiction, you can use the quiz below to test their knowledge.