drug and brain illustration

Drugs and the Brain: A Guide to Educating and Nurturing Your Kid’s Growth

Published on: February 15, 2024   |   Last updated on:

In this article, we’re going to discuss:

  1. The Science of Joy [Video 1 of a 3-part series on the brain]
  2. Why it’s important to understand the science
  3. The brain: A basic overview
  4. Why is the teen brain different?
  5. How the brain processes natural highs
  6. Impact of drugs and alcohol on the brain
  7. How to Identify and nurture a kid’s natural highs
  8. Your next steps

You’re at the kitchen table, heart pounding, as you confront the harsh reality that your teenager might be experimenting with substances. The weight of worry and uncertainty hangs heavy in the air.

Where did things veer off track? Could something have been done to prevent this?

This scenario is a stark reality for many families, igniting a crucial conversation about the intersection of adolescence, brain development, and the impact of drugs on the brain.

In this article we’re going to unravel how drugs really affect our kids’ brains and why educating them on the impact can lead them to make healthy choices and live a thriving life.

But more importantly, we provide the resources and specific strategies to empower your child to navigate life’s challenges with resilience and informed choices.

In an era where drug use is often mistakenly romanticized, understanding the science behind their effects is our first line of defense.

Through this article, we embark on a journey to equip our children with the tools they need to thrive, fostering a dialogue based on understanding, critical thinking, and compassion.

Let’s shift the narrative from fear to informed strength, embarking on this critical conversation together.

If we first understand the adolescent brain then we can meet the needs of kids where they’re at developmentally. So instead of butting heads, we can tailor our approach in a way that more effectively supports and guides them in their journey.

Educating children on how drugs affect the brain goes beyond providing scientific information. We need to give them the tools to navigate our complex world. It empowers them to make choices based on understanding and critical thinking, rather than fear or misinformation.

As we explore this important subject below, here’s a relatable tool you can use to engage with the kids in your life: The Brain’s Response To Artificial And Natural Highs. This series is an invaluable resource in educating them about the intricate workings of their brains and the long-term effects of substance use.

By showing these videos, we offer our teens a clear, scientific perspective, empowering them to make choices that lead to healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Watch the first video of the 3-part series below.

Here’s why it’s important

You may be wondering, how does understanding the science of drugs and its impact on the brain help kids make healthier choices? Here are 5 reasons it’s important:

1. Understanding Leads to Empowerment:

When kids understand how drugs affect their brain and overall health, they’re better equipped to make informed decisions. Knowledge about the science of the brain demystifies drugs and alcohol, moving the conversation from “just say no” to understanding “why to say no.”

2. Awareness of Risks and Consequences:

When kids understand how drugs specifically affect the developing brain, the dangers become more concrete. This awareness acts as a strong preventive measure by linking abstract ideas to actual consequences.

Studies show that when kids are aware of these risks, they’re more likely to avoid experimentation and risky behaviors.

3. Counteracting Misinformation:

There’s a lot of misinformation about drugs and alcohol, especially in media portrayals and among peers. We can educate our kids with factual, scientific information that helps counteract these myths and misconceptions. This helps them see beyond the normalized portrayal of drug and alcohol use in media and society.

In fact, there are far less teens actually using drugs and alcohol than they think. Read more about how you can help kids challenge social norms here.

4. Developing Healthy Coping Mechanisms:

When kids develop healthy coping mechanisms, it helps to balance emotional regulation and decision-making, allowing young people to constructively manage stress and challenges.

You can think of healthy coping mechanisms as what we can ‘natural highs’. By understanding how ‘natural highs’ work, kids can learn to seek positive activities that release neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins in healthy ways. The goal is for kids to navigate challenging emotions and stress by utilizing the healthy coping strategies they’ve learned instead of escaping to drugs and alcohol.

5. Building a Supportive Community:

When educators and parents are knowledgeable about drugs and its impact on the brain, they’re more equipped to have open and honest discussions about substance use. This removes the stigma and allows for more effective communication.

Our brains are fascinating and super complex. They control everything we do, feel, and think.

And our brains are especially busy and sensitive when we’re teenagers.

During this time our brains are like sponges, absorbing everything and shaping us into who we’ll become. It presents a unique opportunity for growth and learning but also makes the brain more susceptible to harm from negative influences like drugs or alcohol. That’s why what we do during our teen years really matters.

Let’s start with the basics of how the brain works, focusing on the essentials.

The Brain: A Basic Overview

  • The brain is the control center of your body, divided into several parts, each with its own function.
  • The brain is made up of cells called neurons.
  • These neurons communicate with each other through electrical and chemical signals.
  • They connect at points called synapses.

Think of neurons like a network of computers, where synapses are the internet connecting them.

Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that neurons use to communicate. Different neurotransmitters have different effects on your mood, energy, and focus.

Why is The Teen Brain Different?

Our brains are still under construction during the teen years. Imagine your brain is like a house being built. The foundation has been there since we were young, but now it’s time to add the rooms, the wiring, and all the cool features. This is the time when our brain is making loads of connections and getting super fine-tuned. These are those synapses referenced earlier.

One of the most important parts under construction is the prefrontal cortex. This is like the control room of the brain. It’s where we make decisions, think about our actions, and control our impulses. It is a key player in decision-making, judgment, and self-control.

human brain

But here’s the catch – this part isn’t fully developed until we’re about 25 years old!

This delayed development explains why teenagers are more prone to risk-taking behaviors and less capable of making informed decisions or understanding the long-term consequences of their actions. So, sometimes it’s like trying to use a half-built control room.

When we talk about drugs and their effects on the brain, it’s super important to remember this.

Our brains are in a delicate state when we’re teens, and introducing substances can mess with the construction process, potentially leading to lasting impacts on brain function and behavior.

So, nurturing their brains during these years is key.

Young people need to find healthy ways that make life exciting and fulfilling without messing with the construction plans. Things like sports, music, art, or whatever makes them feel alive and gives them that rush of joy – what we call ‘natural highs’. This helps build a strong, happy brain that’s ready for anything.

How the Brain Processes Natural Highs

  • When you engage in activities you enjoy, like playing a sport, painting, or listening to music, your brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins.
  • These create a feeling of happiness, satisfaction, and pleasure.
  • The brain has a reward system that reinforces behaviors that make us feel good.
    This system is activated during natural highs, encouraging us to repeat these healthy, enjoyable activities.

Impact of Drugs and Alcohol on the Brain

When drugs enter the system, they don’t just pass through; they linger, binding to neurotransmitters and altering the flow of communication between neurons.

This intrusion disrupts the natural order, like a hacker infiltrating a well-guarded system, causing long-term changes in how the brain processes information and responds to stimuli.

Drugs and alcohol have the potential to hijack the brain’s reward system.

  • Drugs and alcohol can artificially stimulate the brain’s reward system, often releasing larger amounts of neurotransmitters like dopamine.
  • This can create a sense of euphoria but it’s not natural or sustainable.
  • Over time, the brain gets used to these high levels of neurotransmitters.
  • This leads to tolerance (needing more to get the same effect) and dependence (needing the substance to feel normal).

For young people, whose brains are still developing, the impact of drugs and alcohol can be more severe.

It can affect brain development, impair learning and memory, and increase the risk of addiction later in life.

Chronic use of drugs and alcohol can lead to long-term changes in the brain, affecting mood, behavior, and decision-making.

It can also increase the risk of mental health disorders!

As we learned earlier in this article, the prefrontal cortex is still maturing during the teen years, meaning it might not always hold the reins as tightly as we, or even our kids, might want.

That’s why conversations about natural highs, about finding joy in healthy, constructive activities, are so vital.

One of our most profound duties is to guide our kids toward discovering and nurturing their natural highs and to avoid the pitfalls of artificial highs.

How To Identify and Nurture a Kid’s Natural Highs

You’ve learned how drugs impact the developing brain and the benefits of helping kids find their ‘natural high’.

Here’s how you can identify and nurture those natural highs.

Identify Their Natural High

The first step is to recognize what captivates and motivates your kids. Is it the strum of a guitar, the stroke of a paintbrush, the thrill of a scientific experiment, or the joy of a well-kicked soccer ball?

Observing them as they engage in different activities can provide us with valuable clues about their natural highs.

Tip: Spend quality time with your kid in diverse activities and observe what genuinely excites and engages them. It might not be the first or the second activity, but with patience, you’ll find what lights them up.

Encourage Exploration

Encourage them to explore various activities. This not only aids in identifying their natural high but also contributes to a well-rounded development.

Tip: Foster an environment where trying new things is celebrated, not feared. Whether it’s a new sport, a new musical instrument, or a new form of art, let your child know that it’s okay to explore.

Nurture Their Natural High

Once you’ve identified their natural high, the next crucial step is to nurture it. This might involve enrolling them in classes, setting aside time in their daily routine, or simply providing moral support and encouragement.

Here are 5 ways to find and cultivate their natural high.

  • Our kids learn a lot by observing us. When they see us engaging in our passions, they understand the value of having and pursuing a natural high. Share your experiences, the challenges you’ve faced, and how you’ve overcome them. It’s about setting an example of healthy, passionate living.
  • Be involved in your child’s activities. Your presence matters. It shows that you value their interests, and it strengthens your bond with them.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your kid about their interests. Understand what they enjoy about their natural high and what challenges they face. Encourage them to persevere, especially when they encounter obstacles or setbacks.
  • Create an environment where your child feels comfortable sharing their successes and failures. Celebrate their achievements, and be there to guide and support them through their challenges.

All of this combined makes them feel supported and strengthens your bond with your kid.

It’s not merely about steering them away from harmful substances; it’s about illuminating the path to a life of passion, purpose, and joy.

In wrapping up, let’s remember that our journey doesn’t end here.

It’s a continuous process of learning, understanding, and guiding. Providing a supportive space for understanding and navigating the complexities of growing up helps build trust and resilience in kids, enabling them to make informed, healthy choices in a world filled with challenges and pressures.

Your Next Steps

A great next step? Show your kids the Natural High 3-part video series on the brain. The entire series is less than 10 minutes, and you can use our discussion questions to guide the conversation.

The videos are a fantastic tool that visually and engagingly explains the impact of drugs on their developing minds.

Watching this series together can spark meaningful conversations and deepen their understanding, helping them make informed, healthy choices for their future. That’s the goal, right?

And for ongoing support and resources, don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Natural High Essentials. It’s filled with insightful articles, tips, and tools to empower you and your kid(s) on this journey towards a healthy, fulfilling life.


Stay Connected