NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow’s love of science is credited for breaking down misinformation and pushing forward in the study of addiction.
When dealing with drug abuse and addiction, it’s best to refer to the experts when seeking reliable information. You don’t get much more expert than Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Her extensive study of the brain and addiction makes her the perfect person to shatter popular addiction myths and the rampant misinformation that allows so many people to fall intro drug abuse and misuse.
Her mission at NIDA is to use scientific data to strip away the myths that continue to surround drug addiction. Beliefs like “marijuana is not addictive” and “prescription medications are always safe” or “you can control your addiction” are erroneous and just plain dangerous.
Dr. Volkow is also working to combat the myth of the drug user as a social misfit. This idea has kept many from spotting a problem in a friend or loved one because they don’t fit this outdated idea. The growing problem of prescription drug misuse has played a definite role in the changing face of those who struggle with addiction. It could be your grandma, your best friend or even your local medical professional. Despite the awareness, few physicians screen for substance misuse, and fewer still refer for treatment. As a result, NIDA has joined with other national health institutes to improve education on pain management in medical curricula.
Her main role may be mainly as a spokesperson and advocate for addiction issues, but Dr. Volkow is still a scientist at heart. That may explain why she still loves to lose herself in raw data and avidly studies the brain. It’s led her to a better understanding of the damage cocaine can do (brain imaging shows what look like small strokes in users). Her hunger for scientific knowledge also led her to a better understanding of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which has been proven to be a key factor in the addiction process. The way that we produce dopamine, the triggers, and the conditioned responses affect our behaviors and addictions. Not only does dopamine relay the sensation of pleasure, but it also motivates our behaviors via expectations. Contrary to previous theories of addiction, Dr. Volkow found that the sensitivity of the reward centers in the brains of addicts is significantly decreased.
She credits discoveries like these to keeping an open mind. “We want to see certain patterns, but we can trap ourselves into missing the most exciting things. I've always let the data guide me,” Volkow recently told The Lancet.
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