DISCUSSION: After the small group sharing activity, facilitate a class discussion using the
following questions and list the students' ideas on the board. What were some of the opinions you
shared in your small groups:
Why are children and adolescents willing to endanger their mental and social development and break the law to use alcohol?
What can communities do to prevent young people from using alcohol?
What can parents do to protect their children from using alcohol?
What can young people do to protect themselves and their friends from using alcohol?
What did you say you were willing to do to?
Which question was the hardest to answer? Why?
Were you surprised by the opinions of your peers on any of the questions?
What do you think we can do as a school to stop alcohol use by students?
What is the first step?
EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ON THE DEVELOPING BRAIN
We have known for decades that exposing the developing brain to alcohol can be devastating. Alcohol
use during pregnancy is the leading known cause of mental retardation in newborns the United States.
That is why one of the warning labels on alcoholic beverages is directed to pregnant women. We also
know that the brain does not finish developing until a person is around twenty years old. The brain
of people under 21 years of age is very different from people over 21 years of age... children and
adolescents are not just "little adults." Think of the brain as a computer. It comes into the
world with the basic operating systems, central nervous system, circulatory system, respiratory
system, reflexes, etc. However, it does not have all its software - the programs for vision,
speech, emotions, memory, abstract thinking, problem solving and attention and concentration. The
brain needs input from the five senses to build these capacities. The brain not only grows
bigger - from one pound at birth to three pounds at adulthood - but it continues to "program" itself
for 20 years, completing the development process started before birth. During this 20-year period,
the brain is creating a complete human being, who is ready to function independently. The brain is
on a schedule, with each stage of development allotted a specific period of time for completion. If
anything prevents the brain from accomplishing a development task on its schedule, it has to skip
that task. Therefore, any substance that interferes with how the brain operates during this 20-year
period of development, such as a psychoactive (mind/mood-altering) drug, can change the course of a
person's physical, mental, emotional and social development.
Alcohol is like other psychoactive drugs in that it changes how the brain cells communicate with
each other by interfering with neurotransmitters. If we think of the brain as a computer, alcohol
and other psychoactive drugs act like computer viruses; they change, delete or scramble the code
that our computer - the brain - uses to operate. However, alcohol is different from other
psychoactive drugs; it deactivates and activates brain centers (speech, hearing, vision, fine
movements, gross movements, learning, anger, fear, pain, pleasure, hunger, etc.) at a rate no
other psychoactive drug can even approach, not cocaine, not heroine, not nicotine. For a brain
that is on a schedule, turning off brain centers - even for a short while - can be devastating.
Adult brains, which can still be harmed by use of psychoactive drugs including alcohol, do not
sustain the same level of damage because their brains have completed development.
Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., and Wilkie Wilson, Ph.D., Buzzed: The Straight Facts
Abut the Most Used and Abused Drugs (from Alcohol to Ecstasy), Duke University Medical Center, 1998.