Lesson: Drugs + Your Brain

First published 2012. To view the latest Heads Up content, click here.

Use the lesson and student work sheet below to reinforce comprehension of key facts and concepts in the student article “Drugs + Your Brain.”

Dear Teacher:

Providing teens with scientific information about how abusing drugs interferes with the development and functioning of their brains and bodies can help them make better decisions.

The Heads Up student article “Drugs + Your Brain” and accompanying student work sheet “Mission Control” focus on the consequences of drug abuse as it affects a person’s brain. Future articles in the series will highlight the effects of drugs on the body’s major organs, as well as on a person’s behavior—affecting not just the individual, but also family, friends, and communities.

By sharing this article and working through these exercises with your students, you are providing them with important information on the brain-body connection and the many risks they expose themselves to if they abuse drugs.

In This Installment:
Student article: Facts for teens about the effects of drug abuse on the body, with an emphasis on the brain.
Student work sheet: Students learn about different systems of the brain, their connections with how the body functions, and how abusing drugs can interfere with normal functioning.

Alignment With National Standards
Science (NSES): Life Science: Structure and Function in Living Systems; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Personal and Community Health
Life Skills (McREL): Self-Regulation; Thinking and Reasoning


Lesson Plan

Before-Reading Questions:
• What do you know about how different drugs affect the brain and body?
• What do you know about how the brain controls the body?
• What do you know about addiction and its causes?

After-Reading Questions (factual responses in italics):

How are drugs addictive? (Drugs act on a region of the brain that causes feelings of pleasure. Drugs alter the way the brain communicates and actually cause physical changes to brain wiring. These changes can cause cravings and other problems controlling behavior that make it hard to stop using drugs despite harmful consequences, which is addiction.)

How does abusing prescription pain medications interfere with a person’s ability to breathe? (Prescription painkillers act on the brain stem, which controls the lungs and heart. Abuse of these drugs can decrease breathing and heart rate, leading to coma or even death.)

Prescription stimulants can cause anxiety and hostility when abused. Which area of the brain do prescription stimulants affect? (Prescription stimulants affect the amygdala, which controls emotions.)

How does marijuana affect a person’s ability to drive or play sports? (Marijuana affects the cerebellum, which controls coordination. It also affects attention and reaction time. A person needs all of these faculties to drive or play sports safely.)

How do drugs affect a person’s ability to think? (Drugs, such as marijuana, can affect the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus—areas of the brain involved in thinking, memory, and learning.)


Student Work Sheet

Have each student use the work sheet and student article to answer the fill-in-the-blank questions under the illustration.

View the Student Work Sheet online (HTML).
Download and print the Student Work Sheet (PDF).

Answer Key:
1. brain stem;
2. limbic system, prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, cerebellum;
3. amygdala within the limbic system;
4. cerebellum;
5. brain stem;
6. prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.
Think It Through (Answers may vary but should include the conclusion that abusing drugs affects the brain while it is still developing. Conversations with students should highlight that the teen brain is still developing and that making a commitment not to use drugs before entering a high-pressure situation will help them make better decisions about avoiding drug use.)

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