Dr Volkow’s contribution to the study of drug abuse as the director of National Institute on Drug Abuse, USA is notable. Her imaging studies of the brains of people addicted to drugs have helped to clarify the mechanisms of drug addiction.
At Brookhaven, positron emission tomography (PET) scanning was being used to study the brain in people with schizophrenia. When Volkow moved to the University of Texas, studying patients with schizophrenia was not an option, but studying patients with cocaine addiction was possible.Volkow and colleagues studied the distribution of blood flow in the brain of chronic cocaine users and control patients who used cocaine.
They found decreased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of cocaine users, that continued after 10 days of withdrawal from cocaine use. Her research paved the way for further studies in drug consumption pattern of human beings as well as addictions and 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 in the brain structure make it very difficult for addicts to give up their addiction.