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The New Science of Addiction

Bioethics and The New Science of Addiction

Students use a Bioethics Organizer worksheet to consider a bioethical dilemma from the perspective of a stakeholder. Use the Decision-Making Model with either the Bioethics Scenario: Addiction Vaccine (print) or ethical dilemmas you and your class generate using the Challenges and Issues in Addiction webpage (online) in The New Science of Addiction: Genetics and the Brain module.

Learning Objectives
  • Advances in science and technology often create ethical, legal and social issues that must be addressed by society.
  • There are numerous stakeholders involved in any bioethical dilemma, each with their own unique perspective.
  • New understanding of addiction as a brain disease with a genetic component may lead to new treatment and prevention strategies that carry with them ethical, legal and social implications.
Bioethical Decision-Making Model
Bioethics Scenario: Addiction Vaccine (optional)

Comparing Brain Images

A color-by-number comparison of PET scan images showing activity in a drug-free brain and the brain of a former cocaine addict. For use with PET scan animation under the Changes Last Long After Use header on the Drugs Alter the Brain's Reward Pathway page.

Learning Objectives
  • Brain activity diminishes with drug use.
Comparing Brain Images Print-and-Go

Exploring The New Science of Addiction

Students explore The New Science of Addiction: Genetics and the Brain interactive module on our website to complete a web quest.

Learning Objectives
  • Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by changes in the brain.
  • A network of neurons in the brain known as the reward pathway is responsible for driving our feelings of motivation, reward and behavior.
  • Neurons, such as those that comprise the reward pathway, communicate at the synapse using neurotransmitters.
  • Drugs of abuse alter the brain’s reward pathway by disrupting the action at the synapse.
  • There is a genetic component to addiction.
  • The adolescent brain is particularly susceptible to developing a lifetime addiction.
  • Changing opinions about drugs and drug abuse present challenges and issues that society must consider.
Exploring the New Science of Addiction Print-and-Go

Jumpin' the Gap

Turn your classroom into a giant synapse as students act out communication at the neural level by behaving as vesicles, neurotransmitters, receptors, secondary messengers and transporters. Neurotransmitters and receptors interact via "lock-and key" puzzle pieces (included).

Learning Objectives
  • Nerve cells communicate with each other at a junction called a synapse.
  • When stimulated by an action potential, a neuron releases neurotransmitters into the synapse.
  • Receptors on the outside of the receiving cell (post synaptic cell) fit synaptic neurotransmitters similar to a “lock and key”.
  • Once neurotransmitters “lock” into the appropriate receptor, a secondary messenger is released in the receiving cell.
  • After neurotransmitters have done their job, they are released from the receptors and sent back through the cell through re-uptake transmitters.
  • In the sending cell, neurotransmitters are packaged in vesicles.
Jumpin' the Gap Print-and-Go
Color Overheads Only

Pom-Pom Potential

This kinesthetic, color-coded simulation helps students visualize how an action potential travels down a neuron. Done as a whole-class, students move pom-pom "ions" across a membrane to simulate how an action potential is propagated along an axon.

Learning Objectives
  • An action potential is an electrical signal that is generated by the movement of ions across the membrane of a neuron.
Pom Pom Potential Print-and-Go
Color Overheads Only

What's the Risk

Students play a game of chance to determine whether a fictitious child is likely or unlikely to abuse drugs. Students discover the risk and protective factors involved in substance addiction and analyze the results along with genetic factors to assess the risk of addiction.

Learning Objectives
  • Students will understand that the use of drugs is an important risk factor in addiction.
  • Environmental and behavioral factors (known as risk and protective factors) affect personal choices about drug use and influence the likelihood of addiction.
  • Genetics is a factor in addiction.
What's the Risk Print-and Go

Worksheet for Drugs of Abuse

An optional worksheet to use in conjunction with the Drugs of Abuse interactive online activity. Students learn about and list the origin, effect and medical consequences of a number of drugs of abuse.

Learning Objectives
  • Drugs of abuse have a variety of origins, physical effects and medical consequences.
Drugs of Abuse Print-and-Go

Worksheets for Mouse Party

An optional worksheet to use in conjunction with the Mouse Party interactive online activity. Students analyze lab mice to view the molecular mechanisms by which various drugs disrupt the synapse.

Learning Objectives
  • Drugs disrupt the natural action of neurotransmitters at the synapse.
  • Each drug has a different way of disrupting the synapse.
Mouse Party Print-and-Go

Worksheets for PI: Pedigree Investigator, On the Case of Nicotine Addiction

An optional worksheet to use in conjunction with the Pedigree Investigator: On the Case of Nicotine Addiction interactive, online activity. Students use video interviews and questionnaires to construct a pedigree that tracks nicotine addiction in the fictitious Marshall family.

Learning Objectives
  • Researchers construct pedigrees to track a trait through multiple generations of a family.
  • Once complete, researchers look for patterns within a pedigree that indicate whether or not the trait being tracked is inherited.
  • Constructing a pedigree is only the first step in identifying genes involved in disease.
Pedigree Investigator Print-and-Go


Supported by a Science Education Drug Abuse Partnership Award (SEDAPA), from The National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health. Grant Number: R25DA15461

The contents provided here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIH.