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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Nora Volkow On Addiction

The PBS show The Open Mind recently featured the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Nora Volkow. The interview, as one might expect, focuses on the American prescription opioid and heroin epidemic. It is a known fact that we have a real problem on our hands regarding the overprescribing of opioids and the subsequent scourge of heroin abuse.

Dr. Volkow used her own love of chocolate, to explain addiction to her interlocutor. It is a question of self-will initially, leading to an inability to moderate drug and alcohol use. Volkow points out that even the most disciplined of people can give in to urges, in this case it is chocolate. Most of the time people can moderate the chocolate intake, but sometimes due to outside factors, one will give into their urges. Drugs and alcohol are different in that they rewire or change how the brain operates. It is a change that leads to substance use disorder.

"When you transition from that stage where most of the time you are able to self-regulate the desires and control and manage your behavior even though you want to do it, you say it's not a good idea—when you lose that capacity consistently, that's when you start to get into the transition of addiction," says Volkow. “If these areas of the brain are not functioning properly, which is what repeated drug use does to your brain, it can affect the capacity of frontal cortical areas. Your ability to make optimal decisions gets dysfunctional.”

Mind altering substances are addictive, but while some people can use for a while and then give it up—others cannot. We all have different brains, and variations or dysfunction in the frontal cortex can reduce some people's ability to say no, a long term chronic use ensues.

We encourage you to watch the video below. It is fairly lengthy, but it covers a number of important aspects of addiction and ways to curb the epidemic, including the lack of addiction training in medical school.

If you are having trouble watching the video, please click here.

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