To keep youth from experimenting with drugs, prevention specialists with Crossroads Counseling in St. Clairsville start talking to children as young as preschool age up to high schoolers.
Laura Shimenga, prevention specialist, said she uses a variety of stories and analogies depending on the age of the class, but it all comes down to one message: People don't need drugs or alcohol to enjoy their lives.
She also teaches them how the substances damage and change the way the brain functions.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Laura Shimenga, Crossroads Counseling prevention specialist, holds a model of a brain — a half that has shrunk due to alcohol abuse and another half that is normal.
Natural activities such as sleeping, eating and exercising raises dopamine levels in one's brain, which it enjoys. Dopamine makes people happy.
But when one does drugs, it artificially floods the brain with too much dopamine. The next time one does the drug, the brain reacts by killing the dopamine receptors because it knows the human body does not need that much of the chemical. One's normal dopamine levels never return.
While some receptors can recover, most will not, causing people to battle addiction for the rest of their lives.
"It's very frustrating. The first few weeks are so hard to abstain from something your body is craving," she said.
Shimenga also teaches children that alcohol can actually shrink one's brain.
"It shrivels the brain. One drink of alcohol can shrivel the brain, and if you continue to drink, it can become permanent," she said.
Shimenga said Crossroads does the drug prevention programs for free. She said it is important for youth to learn not just that drugs are bad, but why they are dangerous and how they work.