Nora Volkow talks about the complexity of drug addiction

Event took place in the auditorium of PUCRS Building 50

07/10/2019 - 09h06

Photo: Camila Cunha

Considered by Time Magazine one of the top 100 most powerful women in the world, psychiatrist  Nora Volkow spoke to PUCRS students and professors in a live video conference from the United States on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 2. The expert leads one of the most important facilities in the study of drug addiction in the world, the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the United States (NIDA), and spoke at the invitation of Rodrigo Grassi, a professor at PUCRS’  School of Medicine and researcher at the Brain Institute of Rio Grande do Sul.

In a talk that lasted around one hour, she exposed the complexity behind drug addiction, which goes beyond the limits of Biology to enter the immense and subjective field of Behavior. “In the first five years of life, the environment in which a child lives is more relevant than the genetics itself”, she said. Volkow said that drug addiction involves multiple factors and usually begins during the adolescence, when young people are most vulnerable to starting drug use. According to the expert, this is because the brain of teenagers is different from an adult brain.

Generally, when a person is born, they have more neurons, but less connections between them. Over the years, the number of neurons decreases, but connectivity increases. If such connections are healthy, the brain enters adulthood uncompromised. However, if drug initiation starts early, for instance, the brain loses these connections and can suffer chemical modifications that compromise its functions.


Photo: Camila Cunha

She also approached the controversial issue of marijuana. Without arguing for or against its legalization, she said that several studies point to an impact of marijuana on brain development among addicts, countering the notion that it is a harmless drug. “The adverse effects are not clear yet, but many studies point to health problems arising from the chronic use of marijuana”, she said.

Also according to the expert, who has authored more than 500 articles and three books on the use of neuroimaging in the study of psychiatric and addictive disorders, drug-based treatments are only available for nicotine, alcohol and opioid (painkiller) addicts. For all other drugs, there is no treatment to cure addiction. A support network is necessary. as well as the support of family, friends, and an adequate environment that will help inhibit not only biological but also behavioral aspects.

About NIDA

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (Nida) has the mission to promote science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply this knowledge to improve individual and public health. This includes supporting and strategically conducting basic and clinical research on the use of drugs (including nicotine), its consequences, and the underlying neurobiological, behavioral, and social mechanisms involved; ensuring effective translation, implementation and dissemination of scientific research findings to improve the prevention and treatment of substance abuse disorders; and raising public awareness about addiction as a brain disorder.


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