10/31/2011 05:12 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2011

Dr. Nora Volkow: New Brain Research Helps Explain Drug Addiction (VIDEO)

Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has studied the neural pathways of addiction and believes that we've got to protect our brains.

Much of her research and advocacy is focused upon shattering current myths surrounding drug addiction such as:

  1. Marijuana is not addictive
  2. Prescription medications are always safe
  3. You can control your addiction

This cluster of myths can be investigated by focusing on how the brain creates and responds to dopamine.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is 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, she's found that the sensitivity of the reward centers in the brains of addicts is significantly decreased.

Dr. Nora Volkow's efforts are two-fold: to understand the neural source of addiction and then to educate the public on addiction. Drug Facts is her latest project aimed at educating teens. This site is a conduit between teens and scientists and allows them to send questions directly to experts in an effort to teach facts surrounding drugs and drug abuse.

In the video above, Dr. Volkow explains problems in current addiction treatment and elucidates how we can better understand this chronic disease.