Understanding Alcohol
sponsoring Institutes
Main Getting Started Teacher's Guide Student Activities About NIH and NIAAA
glossary | map | contact 
National Institutes of Health website National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) website

National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Understanding Alcohol

Main    Getting Started    Teacher's Guide    Student Activities    About NIH and NIAAA

Glossary    Map    Contact

Teacher's Guide hand using a mouse

Teacher's Guide

Introduction to Understanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior

“Although alcohol is sometimes referred to as a ‘gateway drug’ for youth because its use often precedes the use of other illicit substances, this terminology is counterproductive; youth drinking requires significant attention, not because of what it leads to, but because of the extensive human and economic impact of alcohol use by this vulnerable population.”43—Dr. Enoch Gordis, former Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Despite the legal drinking age of 21, alcohol consumption by underage individuals is not rare. A recent survey showed that 26 percent of eighth graders reported consuming alcohol within the month prior to the survey, and 16 percent reported binge drinking during the two weeks before the survey.42 The effects of adolescent drinking involve both health- and safety-related problems, including auto crashes, domestic violence, and suicide. Alcohol abuse among teenagers may also be related to behavioral problems linked to impulsiveness and sensation seeking. Youth-alcohol-use data indicate that the earlier an individual begins drinking, the greater is his or her risk of developing alcohol-use disorders in the future.26

What Are the Objectives of the Module?

Understanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior has four objectives. The first is to help students understand how alcohol consumption affects the functioning of the body. By focusing on the scientific issues that explain how the body reacts to alcohol, the module seeks to help students make informed decisions about the use of alcohol in their lives.

The second objective is to use the topic of alcohol as a way to understand important scientific concepts. The activities in this module incorporate concepts such as concentration and solubility (miscibility), as well as build important skills in observation, critical thinking, experimental design, and data analysis.

The third objective is to convey to students the purpose of scientific research. Scientific research changes the way we understand the world around us and gives us the foundation for improving our choices about our personal health and the health of the public. In this module, students see that science provides evidence that can be used to support ways of understanding and treating human disease. Because the mission of NIAAA includes increasing the public’s understanding about the causes, consequences, treatment, and prevention of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems, the Institute believes that education provides one context in which it can fulfill its mission.

We have designed the lessons in this module to encourage students to think about the relationships among knowledge, choice, behavior, and enhanced human health in this way:

Knowledge (what is known and not known) + Choice = Power

Power + Behavior = Enhanced Human Health

The final objective is to encourage students to think in terms of these relationships now and as they grow older.

Why Teach the Module?

Middle school life science classes offer an ideal setting for integrating many areas of student interest. In this module, students participate in activities that integrate inquiry science, environmental studies, human health, history, decision-making concepts, and mathematics. The real-life context of the module’s classroom lessons is engaging for students, and the knowledge gained by participating in the module can be applied immediately to students’ lives.

“It [the module] could be easily done by my special-ed students, as well as keeping the interest of the gifted students.” – Field-Test Teacher

“I thought that the lessons were very informative, and it is all information that everyone needs to know about.” – Field-Test Student

What’s in It for the Teacher?

Understanding Alcohol meets many of the criteria by which teachers and their programs are assessed.

In addition, the module provides a means for professional development. Teachers can engage in new and different teaching practices, such as those described in this module without completely overhauling their entire yearlong program. In Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics,33 Susan Loucks-Horsley et al. write that supplemental modules such as Understanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior can “offer a window through which teachers can get a glimpse of what new teaching strategies look like in action.” By experiencing a short-term unit like this one, teachers can “change how they think about teaching and embrace new approaches that stimulate students to problem solve, reason, investigate, and construct their own meaning for the content.” The use of a supplemental unit such as this module can encourage reflection and discussion, and stimulate teachers to improve their practices by focusing on student learning through inquiry.

The following table correlates topics often included in the middle school curriculum with the major concepts presented in this module. This information is presented to help teachers make decisions about incorporating this material into the curriculum.

Correlation of Understanding Alcohol to High School Biology
Topic Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Lesson 5 Lesson 6
Chemical composition of matter   topic contained in lesson 2        
Individual variation and susceptibility     topic contained in lesson 3 topic contained in lesson 4 topic contained in lesson 5  
Human health and medicine topic contained in lesson 1       topic contained in lesson 5 topic contained in lesson 6
Risk assessment and management         topic contained in lesson 5 topic contained in lesson 6
Scientific methods   topic contained in lesson 2 topic contained in lesson 3   topic contained in lesson 5  
Relationship among science, technology, and society topic contained in lesson 1     topic contained in lesson 4 topic contained in lesson 5 topic contained in lesson 6

Next: Implementing the Module

Return to Teacher's Guide