Tragedy and Hope: The Brain on Autopilot Lesson

Grades 9-12 - One class period


Program Segments



Students will be able to:

  • Understand how drugs affect the brain
  • Relate drug addiction to other bodily needs


Instructional Resources



Addiction, tolerance, withdrawal



  1. Students will watch the Tragedy and Hope Stories of Painkiller Addiction segments featuring Ryan and Dr. Blondell.
  2. The facilitator will start a class discussion based on the program segments.
    1. In regards to Ryan’s Story – have any of the students felt compelled to act on a feeling? For example, have they ever felt compelled to continue eating even though they were full?
    2. Dr. Blondell’s Segment – how many students agree with the statement about “brains being on autopilot?” How does a person overcome “autopilot?” Can they?
  3. The facilitator will distribute the Quote Worksheet and students will review the quotes from the program given by Ryan and Dr. Blondell. 
  4. Students will complete the Quote Worksheet.


Assessment Task

Students should actively participate in the class discussion on decision making and how the brain works. Students will provide a written response to both of the quotes from Tragedy and Hope Stories of Painkiller Addiction on the Quote Worksheet.


Extension Activity

Have the students write a poem or song lyrics that contain their own analogy about addiction, hunger, and/or thirst and how the body and brain react to those needs.


National Health Standards

  • Standard 2- Students will analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors.
  • Standard 5 - Students will demonstrate the ability to use decision making skills to enhance health.
  • Standard 7 - Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and avoid or reduce health risks.

Ryan's Story

The Science of Addiction