On Substance Abuse, Session 1 – Beacons of Joy
The goals of this session are:
In this session, youth will: identify features of life associated with joy and flourishing; learn about differences between substance use, abuse, and addiction; explore how our brains are made by God to be “pre-wired for joy” and how substance abuse interrupts that by offering false joy.
Books and Websites for Background:
Gather (5 minutes)
Engage (30 minutes)
Bring the discussion to a close with the following: For us as Christians, we can also understand substance abuse and addiction as a “barrier” or “impediment” to the joy God desires for us: it takes away our freedom to make choices; it narrows the focus of life away from love of neighbor and self toward love of a drug; and because of how drug abuse changes our brains, the “fake joy” in substance abuse makes us less able to experience real joy.
Activity 2: “Joy, Drugs, and Our Brains”
Share the following information with the group, using the handouts provided in the resource section as teaching aids.
Option: you may wish to use one of the following two-minute video resources available on YouTube, plus discussion to introduce this topic, either instead of or in addition to communicating the information-points below: “The Reward Circuit: How the Brain Responds to Natural Rewards and to Drugs” (2 minutes); or the animated video “The Science of Addiction” by Life Noggin (2 minutes).
The Human Brain: God’s work of art for our enjoyment of life
“Substance use” simply refers to ingesting a substance (e.g., alcohol) or a engaging in a behavior (e.g., gambling, internet gaming) that can change one’s mood.
“Substance abuse” is when a person uses more frequently, and perhaps uses more of, a drug or alcohol, even though it has some negative consequences for them. For example, a college student who continues to engage in “binge drinking” several times a month, even though it causes her to be physically ill and to miss classes, is engaged in substance abuse.
“Addiction”is persisting in using alcohol or other drugs even when harmful or negative consequences result. When the college student begins to develop cravings (an intense desire for alcohol), tolerance (she must use more alcohol, more often, and/or in stronger forms to get the same effect as she did initially), and withdrawal (feelings of physical illness that come from the absence of the drug), these are signs that she is addicted.
So the brain “learns” that drug use or internet gaming will bring about the dopamine surge and therefore it stops making and releasing as much natural dopamine.
Reflect (20 minutes)
Activity 3: Think-Write-Talk
Write Eph. 2:10 on a board for everyone to see, or have participants locate it in bibles. Beneath it, write, “Even our brain cells are designed by God for joy!”
Ask each participant to think/meditate on their own silently for 2 minutes on this scripture verse and about what they have seen in the video/ heard in the presentation. Then instruct them to write down key words or phrases to complete the following:
(1) One thing I heard that sticks with me is ______.
(2) Right now, thinking about substance use and addiction, I am feeling _______.
(3) What it means to me that I am God’s work of art is ____________.
Invite volunteers to share. (If no one is willing to share in the whole group, have them do this in pairs.)
Send Forth (5 minutes)
Collage Prayer: Close the session by passing out glue sticks to share, asking each person to glue onto a large poster board their chosen “image of joy” magazine picture to create a collage of joy.
You might wish, as a form of silent prayer, simply to invite people to look upon the images and soak in what these images say about the genuine joy God desires for our lives and of which God is creator and source, a joy inhibited by substance abuse’s fake joy. Spend a few minutes in silence and closing with a simple “You are God’s work of Art! Go out in joy, Amen.”
Or you might follow the formation of the collage with this form of prayer: gathered in a circle holding hands, explain that after a minute of reflection on the images in the collage, you will open the prayer by praying aloud. You then will gently squeeze the hand of the person to your right. Each person in the circle offers their prayer either silently or aloud, “passing it along” to the next person by squeezing the hand of the person to their right, until this prayer chain reaches the leader again who concludes the prayer by saying, “Go out from here as God’s work of art; as people seeking real joy. May God’s joy equip us all to guard ourselves from forms of fake joy like substance use that can harm and distort our lives away from the amazing abundance God has in mind for us. Go in the peace, joy, and knowledge of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. And let all God’s people say Amen.”
This resource includes supplementary materials:
Introduction for Leaders