Graduation Semester and Year

Fall 2024



Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Danielle R. Harrell

Second Advisor

Donna Schuman

Third Advisor

Karen Magruder


Substance use is one of the main problems affecting adolescents and young adults. While the consumption of alcohol has decreased, the consumption of marijuana has increased rampantly due to youth's positive perception after being legalized in 24 states with no clear message of the many adverse effects this drug causes. Different approaches to prevention have been used throughout the years: scare-led tactics, socio-emotional learning skills, and neuroscience-based curriculums. Since substance use results from the conjunction of different biopsychosocial factors that lead to this relapsing brain disease, the solution should integrate different preventive solutions as well. Public policy, schools, social workers, and society in general should work towards a more positive approach towards substance use prevention. The stigma associated with substance use does not help to overcome the problem—neither exclusionary policy nor incarceration. Policies and budget spending should be higher in prevention than in treatment. Children should learn basic knowledge about the brain as the most essential part of the body. A comprehensive approach that includes a gradual delivery of factual knowledge derived from the neuroscience of addiction is pivotal from an early age to acquiring a positive and grateful relationship with the brain. This thesis provides a curriculum model focusing on the reward system as an example of how teachers can explain neuroscience concepts around addiction in an appropriate language for fourth-grade students. The introduction of basic neuroscience concepts can help children achieve healthier lives. The two theoretical frameworks supporting this curriculum development are strength-based perspective and mindfulness practices. The strength-based perspective is used because the brain is a hidden strength for children, and mindfulness is used because recent studies show that mindfulness practices develop mindful traits that help to integrate and regulate brain function.




Clinical and Medical Social Work | Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Early Childhood Education | Educational Psychology | Elementary Education | Mental Disorders | Nervous System Diseases | Prison Education and Reentry | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Substance Abuse and Addiction


Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



The work required to start and end these pages would not have been possible without the encouragement, organizational skills, and thoughtfulness of my thesis Chair, Dr. Danielle Harrell. She helped me stay on track and cheered me on every step of the way, especially when I felt discouraged by my simple way of expressing myself.

I am also thankful for the time and dedication my other committee members spent reading, advising, and motivating me during this academic year. Professor Karen Magruder. She is an outstanding professor who encourages excellence. I treasure her accompaniment and positive attitude during the years of my masters. Dr. Donna Schuman, you were so critical to my thesis. We share the same passion for exploring the interconnectedness between neuroscience and social work, and I am so grateful that you were there for me. I will never forget the enthusiasm you showed when reading the curriculum.

I want to acknowledge all the people who work on the interactive resources I provide in the curriculum. I know many people are working hard to save children and youth from addiction. Without their efforts in making adequate videos for children, this thesis would not be the same.


I will always be indebted to my parents, Teodoro and Martha. Thank you for encouraging me to go higher in my profession and academic endeavors. I want to thank my husband, Diego, and our six children, who supported me in achieving this master's degree. I hope my learning helps all of them in many ways. I appreciate their patience and generosity with their time, especially Teresita and Valentina, who helped me with the home connection activity and reassured me that children can learn neuroscience easily.

As a social work student, I wanted to make a social justice impact on children, one of the most vulnerable populations. For this reason, I dedicate this thesis to all the children and the youth of the world, especially those who, due to their substance abuse, have been rejected from schools, incarcerated, or involved in a fatal substance abuse-related accident in which innocent lives have been taken.



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