Hansen: Education works best in fight against drugs

Your brain on drugs or alcohol over the long haul looks more like a deflated raisin than a fried egg.

It gets smaller, Charles Stines,  a Mesalands Community College student, explained, and easier to injure.

Fatty tissue between the skull and the brain provides a cushion for the soft mass of nerve cells that does your thinking when your brain is normal. After a few decades of heavy drinking or heavy drug use, however, that fatty tissue turns hard and a little crumbly. That means that a brain already smaller from poison-shriveled brain cells will also receive more damage in a head injury than a healthy brain in a healthy skull.

hansen mugIn that context, being called a fathead is a compliment.

To make his point to high school students who visited the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) booth at Mesalands’ Maze of Life event Thursday morning, Stines used a three-dimensional computer image that he assembled himself of two combined brain hemispheres. One hemisphere was normal. The other, smaller, was damaged from long-term drug and alcohol abuse.

The picture could be rotated to view the mismatched pair from above, below, in front, behind, or the left or right.

To make Stines’ point even stronger, Mesalands’ 3-D printer was busy crafting a solid plastic model of the computer image, layer by layer. The printer head, maybe two inches square, hopped back and forth leaving a trail of molten plastic in its wake.

The plastic was continuously fed to the printer from a wire that looked like it belonged in a  line-trimmer. The plastic would harden into a model of the mismatched brain.

The Maze of Life event showed students in a dozen ways how drugs and alcohol can mess up their lives.  The STEM booth and others, however, showed them what healthy brains and minds can do.

Vicki Watson and Barbara Hicklin of the Small Business Development Center, for instance, showed groups of students what teams can do to solve problems and helped identify strong leaders among them. Watson, the business center’s director, also demonstrated for students the financial knowledge and organizational skills that a business owner needs.

There’s a message there about keeping the mind strong, especially for someone who envisions a future of self-employment.

A recent study seemed to show that Quay County’s kids are getting smarter about  how drugs and alcohol can mess up their lives, and the Maze of Life event featured plenty of ways to reinforce the message about the impairment, health problems and legal difficulties that chemically induced fun can leave in its wake.

With hands-on demonstrations, like trying to steer through a line of cones with goggles that produced vision as impaired by alcohol, receiving “sentences” from a robed magistrate judge, and  the visuals of a brain on drugs, the message was delivered loud and clear.

And the good news is, the kids seem to get it.

Steve Hansen is managing editor for the Quay County Sun. Contact him at:


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