To understand the short- and long-term effects that alcohol has on the mind and body as a first step in understanding why teenage drinking is a serious problem.
This lesson is part of a series being created by Science NetLinks as part of The Science Inside Alcohol Project, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For a complete list of materials, visit The Science Inside Alcohol: Educational Materials. The project will develop an interactive, Web-based science and health interactive and four accompanying lesson plans that teach middle-school students about how alcohol affects the human body.
This lesson was produced under Grant #1R25AA016107-01A1, NIAAA.
To provide you with sufficient background to teach this lesson, a Background Information about Teen Alcohol Use teacher sheet has been provided. The teacher sheet provides information about alcohol consumption among teens and preteens, the long- and short-term effects of moderate and heavy alcohol consumption, and facts about how alcohol is metabolized by the body. This sheet can be used as a reference throughout the lesson.
Because alcohol use among young people is so prevalent, it is essential that they become aware of the potential dangers of alcohol use at an early age. This lesson is the first in a series designed to inform students about the risks associated with drinking. Research has shown that the younger students are when they begin learning about alcohol use, the greater their likelihood of staying away from it (Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child about Alcohol. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2000).
In the Motivation part of the lesson, students read a newspaper article about a girl who died after a night of drinking. They discuss what happened and what could have been done to prevent it. Students are encouraged to share feelings, such as surprise, fear, or anxiety, evoked by this story. The purpose of this reading is to make students aware of the seriousness of teen drinking.
During the Development part of the lesson, students answer a series of ten true/false questions about alcohol use. This exercise serves as a pre-assessment to find out what students know about alcohol use. It also will be used as a starting point for a research project. After students take the pre-assessment survey, they will work in pairs to research one of the questions. Then they will report their findings to the class. Some pairs may work on the same question, but for this activity, that doesn't matter. The main point is for students to begin finding out more information about alcohol use among young people.
In addition, ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these alcohol learning goals:
- There can be both short-term and long-term consequences, even with moderate levels of drinking.
- Humans vary widely in their ability to absorb and eliminate alcohol. Alcohol's effects are influenced by gender, body weight, and body type.
- Alcohol affects many body systems. For example, alcohol has been shown to change the structure and function of the kidneys and impair their ability to regulate the volume and composition of fluid and electrolytes in the body.
To provide you with sufficient background to teach this lesson, you can visit The Science Inside Alcohol Project, which includes additional educational material. You can also read Delaying That First Drink: A Parents' Guide for the latest research on the impact of alcohol on the growing body and tips on how to talk to kids about drinking.
Begin the lesson by asking students to use their Alcohol's Effect on the Mind and Body student esheet to go to the Science Inside Alcohol Project e-book. Once there, they should read the Home page and Introduction. Follow up this reading by discussing the questions from the Introduction:
- Why does drinking too much alcohol affect how you behave?
- What is it about how alcohol affects our bodies that can make us change both mentally and physically?
Now hand out the Learning about Teen Drinking student sheet. Give students a few moments to read the selection. Be aware that the story is disturbing and could upset some middle-school students. Nonetheless, it is important for them to understand at an early age the potential dangers of alcohol use. Before the class reads the article, tell them that it represents the "worst case scenario" of what can happen with excessive alcohol use. Tell students that its purpose is to get them thinking about why alcohol use should be taken so seriously.
Next, either discuss the questions listed after the reading as a class or divide the students into small groups to go over them. Possible answers to the questions are given below.
- What is your reaction to this article?
- (Answers will vary.)
- How did alcohol affect the girl's behavior?
- (Alcohol probably affected the girl's judgment and coordination. If she had been thinking more clearly, she would not have been leaning so far out the window. If her coordination and balance hadn't been affected, she probably wouldn't have fallen. This article is an example of what can happen when people drink too much alcohol.)
- What would you like to know about alcohol use as a way to prevent such incidents from happening?
- (Answers will vary. Use this question as an opportunity to discuss students' thoughts, feelings, and fears about alcohol use. This could be a good opportunity to discuss how people of legal drinking age can avoid drinking too much and reduce potential harm to themselves and others.)
Ask students to turn to Part 2 of their student sheet. Give them about 15 minutes to answer the questions on the survey. You can find the answers to the questions on the Learning about Teen Drinking teacher sheet.
After students have answered the questions, either assign a partner to each student, or have students pick their own partners. Give each pair a question to research. For this activity, it doesn't matter if more than one pair of students is working on the same question. The goal is for students to begin learning more about alcohol use. If students had answered the question correctly, they should write a paragraph providing more information about the topic. If they had answered it incorrectly, they need to explain how their thinking has changed as a result of their research.
To help with their research, students should use their Alcohol's Effect on the Mind and Body student esheet, which will help them go to these sites:
For more detailed information about the physiological effects of alcohol, students can consider these sites:
- Alcohol and the Brain
- Biological Impacts of Alcohol Use: An Overview
- Interactive Body
- Drugs, Alcohol, and Smoking: Straight Talk About Alcohol
After students have completed their research, collect their paragraphs and use them as a pre-assessment of students' current knowledge about alcohol and its effects on the brain and body. This information can be used in planning future lessons.
Have students present their findings to the class. As you listen to their reports, consider these questions:
- Do students seem comfortable with the subject matter?
- Have they absorbed the information?
- Has students’ research corrected many of their misconceptions about alcohol, or do they still have work to do to correct their erroneous ideas?
Ask students if they have some questions about alcohol use that they would like to see addressed in future lessons. Write down their ideas on a sheet of newsprint and use it as a resource when planning additional lessons.
To help students “stay with the program,” have them involve their parents or caregivers. To inform parents/caregivers about students' work on this topic, consider using the Letter for Parents/Caregivers.
The concepts in this lesson can be extended by leading students through these other Science NetLinks lessons on the science inside alcohol:
- Alcohol and Its Impact on the Brain
- Alcohol's Effects on Organs
- The Social Ramifications of Alcohol Abuse
After learning about the effects of alcohol on the body and mind, the next step is to develop strategies for resisting peer pressure and “saying no” to alcohol use. If students are ready for this topic, these sites provide useful information:
- Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child about Alcohol
- Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free: Educators