American psychiatrist Nora Volkow, who was born in Mexico, is currently in charge of the “National Institute on Drug Abuse” (NIDA). She was raised in Mexico City, where she was born and where she resided in the home of her great-grandfather. He was a “Bolshevik” leader who Stalin forcibly removed from his native Soviet Union. A total of three sisters raised Nora. She and her sisters frequently gave brief tours of their house, which had been converted into a museum, to visitors. After earning her medical degree from “New York University,” she began her studies on the science of drug addiction. She came to the conclusion that dopamine, a hormone linked to pleasure, controlled the flow of the disease known as addiction. As a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, she further came to the conclusion that all addictions—including those to sex, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin—cause sufferers to lose control over their actions and fall victim to substance misuse. She has won numerous awards over the years for her excellent work in the field.
Early Childhood & Life
Nora Volkow was born in Mexico City, Mexico, on March 27, 1956. Her parents were fashion designers and a pharmacist. Her ancestry is quite fascinating. Nora just so happens to be the great-granddaughter of the well-known Russian revolutionary who opposed Stalin, Leon Trotsky. After assuming power, Stalin ordered his banishment from his nation. As soon as Nora’s father arrived in Mexico, he moved in at his grandfather’s old house.
The same home where Leon was murdered by Russian nationalist forces in 1940 was where Nora and her three sisters spent their formative years. The residence was eventually transformed into the “Leon Trotsky House Museum” and opened to visitors. Nora and his sisters would frequently show visitors around the house when they were teenagers.
The “Modern American School,” a local school in New Mexico, is where Nora received her high school diploma. She later enrolled in the “National University of Mexico,” where she finished her undergraduate studies in medicine. She had always had an interest in the medical area. She subsequently relocated to the US and enrolled at “New York University,” where she started her residency in psychiatry.
She later developed an interest in brain research since she thought there was still a lot to be done in that discipline. The latest advancements in the industry left her speechless. She was intrigued by the idea of positron emission tomography (PET). She ultimately made the decision to pursue a career in brain research after reading an article about it, deciding to concentrate specifically on the impacts of substance addiction on the human brain.
Nora Volkow’s Career
Nora began her research career at the “Brookhaven National Laboratory” and remained there for a while before beginning employment at the “NIDA,” where she eventually rose to the position of director in 2003. One of Nora’s most innovative studies focused on understanding the effects of addiction on the human brain.
To determine the mechanisms underlying drug addiction, she conducted imaging experiments on the brains of addicts. PET scanning was being employed at Brookhaven in New York to research mental diseases like schizophrenia. She relocated to the “University of Texas” to carry out additional fieldwork. She started researching cocaine users there.
Her primary goal was to ascertain how an addict’s brain differed from that of a non-addict. She and her colleagues discovered that cocaine users’ brains have much less blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. The fact that the blood flow remained abnormal even after 10 days of narcotic cessation was an even more startling discovery.
For addicts, who were mocked by society as having moral flaws, Nora and her team’s discoveries were quite satisfying. The findings demonstrated that addiction caused specific brain alterations in people that caused them to seek their drug of choice once more. The tests also proved that the pathological alterations in the brain brought on by the decreased blood supply to the prefrontal cortex made it difficult for an addict to entirely stop using drugs.
Her justifications for her conclusions further proved that the addict’s cognitive and reasoning abilities were impaired by this alteration in the brain’s structure. The orbitofrontal cortex, which is in charge of a person’s ability to focus on their goals, and the anterior cingulate cortex are the primary parts of the brain impacted by such addiction.
The modifications in the anterior cingulate cortex, according to Nora’s research, ensure that the addict loses the ability to track many action plans for every given moment and the ability to select one of them.
Dopamine, a hormone that is frequently released and is typically linked to pleasure, activates both cortices and makes it difficult for individuals to focus on anything other than ingesting additional drugs. The brain demands frequent and recurrent drug intake, which results in a complicated, chaotic attitude and, if the addiction persists, serious brain damage. Dopamine secretion, when it is persistent, gives the drug a motivational value in addition to the pleasure it produces.
Nora came to the conclusion that this held true for all addictions. Her theory is that the brain alters its physical equilibrium, trapping the addict in a loop that is difficult to escape. Dopamine secretion is stopped when an addict decides to stop using drugs abruptly, which causes significant physical withdrawal symptoms like weakness and nausea.
Non-addicts were also considered in the studies. A person who has never had cocaine will experience a wave of dopamine in the brain, much like an addict does after each dose. The dopamine circuits in the brain continue to be weakened, and Nora’s work indicates that addictions are challenging to overcome. According to the study, some people might never fully recover from their addictions. The possibility of the brain’s pleasure center suffering long-term harm is also present.
In her discussion of how to treat addiction and how it may be prevented, Nora asserts that a person’s youth greatly influences whether or not they will engage in substance abuse. She exhorts parents to ensure that their home environment is tranquil and free from addiction.
For most of her career, Nora has worked for the “Department of Energy” at the “Brookhaven National Laboratory” in Upton, New York. She has held a number of leadership positions over her lengthy employment there, including “Director of Nuclear Medicine,” “Chairman of the Medical Department,” and “Associate Director for Life Sciences.” She has also served as a professor of psychiatry at “Stony Brook University.”
She was appointed as the director of “NIDA,” a division of the “National Institutes of Health,” in 2003. (NIH). She was the first woman to hold the role, making history. She is also the first representative of the “NIH” to have ever visited Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama at his house in Himachal Pradesh, India’s Dharamshala.
Nora’s Individual Life
Dr. Stephen Adler, a physicist at the “National Cancer Institute,” is married to Nora Volkow.
Estimated Net Worth
Nora Volkow is one of the wealthiest and most well-known psychiatrists. Nora Volkow has a net worth of $5 million, per our analysis of data from sources including Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.