Nora D. Volkow (born 27 March 1956) is a Mexican-American psychiatrist.[1] She is currently the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),[2] which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).[3]

Nora Volkow
Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Assumed office
April 15, 2003
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Donald Trump
Joe Biden
Preceded byGlen Hanson
Personal details
Born (1956-03-27) March 27, 1956 (age 68)
Mexico City, Mexico
SpouseStephen Adler
RelationsZinaida Volkova (grandmother)
Leon Trotsky (great-grandfather)
Olga Kameneva (great-great-aunt)
Samuel Bronston (granduncle)
William Bronston (second cousin, once removed)
EducationNational Autonomous University of Mexico (MD)
Known forTEDMED

Early life and education


Born in Mexico City to a Jewish family, Volkow is a daughter of Esteban Volkov, whose mother Zinaida Volkova was the eldest daughter of the Russian communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.[4][1] Volkow and her three sisters grew up in Coyoacán in the house where Trotsky was killed (now the Leon Trotsky Museum).[1][5][6]

Volkow was educated at the Modern American School, in Mexico City, and graduated M.D. from the National University of Mexico, before her postdoctoral training in Psychiatry at New York University.[2]

In 2014, Volkow participated in an event organized by The Moth at a World Science Festival, where scientists, writers and artists told stories of their personal relationships with science. During this time, she discussed her family history and how it furthered her ambition to pursue science in order to positively influence others.[7][8]


Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

During psychiatry residency, she worked on PET scan projects with psychiatrist Jonathan Brodie. After finishing psychiatry residency, she joined the faculty at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, working on PET scan research projects in addition to clinical duties.[9] She conducted research work with Professor Alan Swann, now at Baylor,[10] leaving to Brookhaven in 1987.

Volkow spent most of her professional career at the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York, where she held several leadership positions. She was first a researcher at BNL,[11] and then Director of Nuclear Medicine, Director of the NIDA-DOE Regional Neuroimaging Center at BNL, and finally Associate Director for Life Sciences at BNL. She was also appointed as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Stony Brook University and as Associate Dean for its Medical School.[2]

Volkow's imaging studies of the brains of people addicted to drugs have helped to clarify the mechanisms of drug addiction.[1] At Brookhaven, positron emission tomography (PET) scanning was being used to study the brain in people with schizophrenia.[12] When Volkow moved to the University of Texas, studying patients with schizophrenia was not an option, but studying patients with cocaine addiction was possible.[12] Volkow and colleagues studied the distribution of blood flow in the brain of chronic cocaine users and control patients who did use cocaine. They found decreased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of cocaine users, that continued after ten days of withdrawal from cocaine use.[13] This research has played a part in changing the public's view of drug addiction, from that of a moral violation or character flaw to an understanding that pathological changes to brain structure make it very difficult for addicts to give up their addictions.[1][14] Volkow concludes that abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex create a feeling of need or craving that people with addictions find difficult to prevent. She argues that this makes it difficult to override compulsions by exercising cognitive control. The main areas affected are the orbitofrontal cortex, which maintains attention to goals, and the anterior cingulate cortex, that mediates the capacity to monitor and select action plans. Both areas receive stimulation from dopamine neurons that originate in the ventral tegmental area. A steady influx of dopamine makes it difficult to shift attention away from the goal of attaining drugs. It also fastens attention to the motivational value of drugs, not pleasure. Volkow suggests that people with addictions are caught in a vicious circle of physical brain changes and the psychological consequences of those changes, leading to further changes.[1][15][16]

In 2003 Volkow became director of NIDA.[17][1]

Volkow is the first person from the NIH to visit the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India. During this 2013 visit, Volkow took part in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama about addiction science, as part of a five-day conference sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute.[18][19]

Awards and recognition

With patient in PET scan

Volkow has been recognized for her contributions, both before and during her time at NIDA. The following are among the most significant:

  • Innovator of the Year. U.S. News & World Report, 2000.
  • Newsweek: Who's Next 2007, a list of 21 people predicted to be newsmakers in 2007.[20]
  • The 2007 Time 100. Time's list of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world.[21]
  • The List of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women. The Washingtonian's list of women who lead and lobby, educate and enlighten, and look for cures and pathways to a better world.[22]
  • Washington's 100 Most Powerful Women, Washingtonian Magazine's list of females who've made it to the top.[23]
  • Finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for the Science and Environment Medal (Sammies), Washington DC 2013. These awards recognize outstanding service and are considered among the most prestigious available to federal workers.[24]
  • In 2007, NIDA and another NIH Institute (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) received an Emmy Award for HBO's The Addiction Project. Nora Volkow represented NIDA in receiving the Emmy.[25]
  • In 2011, Volkow received the Joan and Stanford Alexander Award in Psychiatry, from Baylor College of Medicine’s Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.The prize is awarded to "a mental health professional who has made significant contributions in research, education and clinical or community service for people suffering from severe and persistent mental illness." Volkow's award was in recognition of her work in "demonstrating that drug addiction is a disease of the human brain", and "pioneering the use of brain imaging to investigate the toxic effects of drugs and their addictive properties."[26]
  • Hispanic Scientist of the Year Award by Museum of Science & Industry (Tampa) in 2012, for promoting scientific understanding in the community and providing a role model for Hispanic youth.[27]
  • In 2013, Volkow received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Child Mind Institute, in recognition of her "outstanding contributions to brain development and psychopathology research." The prize is awarded to "a scientist whose lifelong commitment to research in mental health and developmental neuroscience has led to more effective, evidence-based treatments and a deeper understanding of psychiatric, addictive, and developmental disorders."[28]

Personal life


Volkow is married to Stephen Adler, a radioimaging physicist at the National Cancer Institute.[1]


  • Volkow, Nora D. (September 2020). "The stigma of addiction". Scientific American. 323 (3): 11.[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Zuger, Abigail (13 June 2011). "A General in the Drug War". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Director's Page". National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  3. ^ "Institutes, Centers & Offices". National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  4. ^ Duenwald, Mary (19 August 2003). "A Conversation With: Nora Volkow; A Scientist's Lifetime of Study Into the Mysteries of Addiction". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Hooked: Why bad habits are hard to break". 60 Minutes, CBS News. 30 April 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  6. ^ Tuckman, Jo (19 August 2012). "Trotsky's murder remembered by grandson, 72 years on". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  7. ^ "The Moth: The Brain's Addiction by Nora Volkow". World Science Festival. Archived from the original on 24 January 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  8. ^ "The Moth: The Brain's Addiction - Nora Volkow". Youtube. World Science Festival. 11 April 2014. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  9. ^ Rodríguez Mega, Emiliano (1 April 2020). "The psychiatrist at the centre of the opioid crisis". Nature. 580 (7802): 178–181. Bibcode:2020Natur.580..178R. doi:10.1038/d41586-020-00921-9. PMID 32238894.
  10. ^ Cocaine in the brain. Mind and medicine. Rutgers University Press. 1990. ISBN 9780813515649.
  11. ^ "Medical Department". Brookhaven National Laboratory. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  12. ^ a b Snyder, Bill (February 2006). "Nora Volkow: Two paths to the future". Lens: A new way of looking at science. Vanderbilt Medical Center. hdl:1803/3930. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  13. ^ Volkow, ND; Mullani, N; Gould, KL; Adler, S; Krajewski, K (May 1988). "Cerebral blood flow in chronic cocaine users: a study with positron emission tomography". The British Journal of Psychiatry. 152 (5): 641–8. doi:10.1192/bjp.152.5.641. PMID 3262397. S2CID 7802167.
  14. ^ "Drug Abuse, Addiction and the Brain". WebMD. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  15. ^ Shetty, Priya (August 2011). "Nora Volkow—challenging the myths about drug addiction". The Lancet. 378 (9790): 477. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61239-7. PMID 21821175. S2CID 8952694.
  16. ^ "An Interview with Nora D. Volkow, M.D." HBO Addiction. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  17. ^ "Dr. Nora D. Volkow Named New Director of NIDA". National Institute on Drug Abuse Archives. 23 January 2003. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  18. ^ "Talking to the Dalai Lama about Addiction Science". National Institute on Drug Abuse. 12 November 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  19. ^ "Mind and Life XXVII - Craving, Desire and Addiction". His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  20. ^ "Newsweek: Who's Next 2007". PR Newswire. 17 December 2006. Archived from the original on 26 July 2015. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  21. ^ Sizemore, Tom (3 May 2007). "The 2007 Time 100: Nora Volkow". Time. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  22. ^ Milk, Leslie (1 June 2006). "June 2006: 100 Most Powerful Women". Washingtonian. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  23. ^ Milk, Leslie (3 October 2011). "Washington's 100 Most Powerful Women". Washingtonian. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  24. ^ Davidson, Joe (7 May 2013). "'Sammies' finalists honored on Capitol Hill". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  25. ^ "Two NIH Institutes Share Emmy Award for HBO's The Addiction Project". National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 14 September 2007. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  26. ^ Pathak, Dipali (21 April 2011). "Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse to receive Alexander Award in Psychiatry". Baylor College of Medicine News. Baylor College of Medicine. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  27. ^ "National Hispanic Scientist of the Year Day" (PDF). City of Tampa Florida. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 March 2016. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  28. ^ "Child Mind Institute Honors Nora Volkow, MD, with 2013 Distinguished Scientist Award (Press Release)". Child Mind Institute. 14 December 2012. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  29. ^ Online version is titled "Fighting back against the stigma of addiction".