Dr. Volkow Explains the Basics of Drugs & Addiction

Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA, answers common questions about drugs, addiction, where to find more information about the health effects of different types of drugs and where to get help. 

Dr. Volkow Explains the Basics of Drugs & Addiction

Video length: 3:53



Dr. Volkow speaking:

Hello. My name is Nora Volkow. I direct the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the institute's role is to generate science that can help us understand the effects of drugs in the brain, addiction, and how to prevent it and treat it. While at the same time, ensuring that we train the new generation of scientists.

Substance misuse is described as when a person takes a drug for purposes that are not intended. For example, if you have an opioid medication, instead of taking it for pain, you take it to get high. And similarly, the term is used for marijuana, for example, or cocaine, or heroin, when you're using these drugs for the reward and effects. The term addiction, however, refers to the state when you have transitioned from having control of when you want to take the drug to when you are in the state that you no longer can regulate the intense desire. And you take that drug despite its adverse consequences.

Addiction is not a choice. Nobody is born with the idea that they want to choose to become addicted and lose control over their desire, intense desire to take drugs. It's something that you may have the vulnerability because actually you have genetic risk, family history, or because you have a very stressful environmental upbringing. The choice starts, and again it's relative, when you are exposed for the first time to the drug. And then some people become addicted and others do not. And that's where a lot of the research is going. To try to understand what are the differences in that transition.

Many people ask the question of whether there is a cure for addiction. And the answer is no. A cure is when you take, for example, an antibiotic and the infection disappears. On the other hand, there are treatments that are very effective to treat addiction. And that's, for example, when you take an antihypertensive drug to take care of your blood pressure. And as long as you take the medication, you are healthy, and you can function perfectly normal. That is a treatment, different from a cure, that you don't have to worry anymore about it.  Addiction has to be treated. And it produces long lasting changes. And as of now, we do not know how to completely revert it so as to cure you. But there is ongoing research. It's one of our main priorities that we get better treatments and also, can we get cured.

 If you are interested on more information, we invite you to come visit our website. It has information both in Spanish and in English and that is drug abuse dot G-O-V. Also, there is a portal at the NIH in Spanish that allows you to take this information. And that is Salud dot NIH dot G-O-V.