Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

When Loving Parents Raise Addicts

Question: Does nurture play a role in addiction?

Nora Volkow: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. There's an enormous amount of evidence about how important nurture is in terms of either protecting or making a kid more vulnerable for taking drugs. We are in the area of genetics, so everybody tries to polarize things: it's either nature or nurture. Well, it's not either/or, it's both. And as we understand more and more how genes are marking the vulnerability of people, many instances, the way that they are marking that vulnerability, is by affecting your sensitivity and the way that you respond to the environment. So you may have a genetic vulnerability in such a way, for example, that it makes you much more sensitive to stressors. So if you have that genetic vulnerability and that you're exposed to a very stressful environment as a child, your parents are not there, they don't care about you, you are physically abused, then that combination of the sensitivity to these stressors makes you more vulnerable to taking drugs.

But on the other hand, if you have accepted that same genetic vulnerability, but you grow up in a family that is very caring, very protective, then you will not develop the vulnerability because it's that interaction of the high sensitivity to the social stressor and exposure to the social stressor that then triggers the vulnerability for taking drugs.

Now, this is, of course, very important because it shifts the paradigm from, "If I'm born with these genetics, what is it that I can do?" Well, there are many things that you can do, because it means that prevention, prevention interventions, even in those that have the genetic vulnerability, can actually have an effect in preventing the disease of substance abuse and addiction.

An area of extraordinary interest right now in research is exactly how to understand how environment, why is it that an environment that's stressful can trigger that vulnerability of a person to take drugs? What does it do to the way that the brain works? How the brain works? We're going one step even more basic, how do certain environments influence the expression of genes in the cells in the brain? I mean, just amazing the sorts of things that we can now, through science, investigate. And for example, now there's been studies shown, these are studies done in Canada by an investigator, Michael Meeney, who led this effort, showing that if in little rats, the mother is not there during the first few days, they don't have that physical touch. That silences a gene, silences a gene that is important to have activated because it will enable to regulate a response to stress. So if you don't have, during those very first few days when you are born, that physical contact, that gene is silenced, and that of course will affect all your adult life.

So here you have, it's not that you inherited the gene, it's that the environment, the nurturing question you asked me, was not there, and that directly affects the gene, that will affect your sensitivity to the environment. These are the type of questions that now through science and technologies we can start to ask and this is giving us understanding about why is it that some people, no matter what environments they are born, seem to do all right, whereas others are much more vulnerable and become addicted. And we can see one day when we will be able to tailor an intervention on the basis of someone's vulnerability. And again, I just was going to say, vulnerability not just in terms of your genetics, which you don't choose. I don't choose my genes, but you also don't choose your nurturing environment. You’re born into an environment. And unfortunately, some environments are very stressful, some kids are very, very stressful growing up, that makes them vulnerable for addiction and other behavioral disorders, where others are brought up in environments that are very, have a lot of nurturing. And that's very protective.

Recorded on November 6, 2009

Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, pinpoints genetic and environmental reasons that render some people vulnerable to drugs.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

R.P. Eddy wrote about a coming pandemic in 2017. Why didn't we listen?

In his book with Richard Clarke, "Warnings," Eddy made clear this was inevitable.

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Coronavirus
  • In their 2017 book, "Warnings," R.P. Eddy and Richard Clarke warned about a coming pandemic.
  • "You never get credit for correctly predicting an outbreak," says science journalist Laurie Garrett in the book.
  • In this interview with Big Think, R.P. Eddy explains why people don't listen to warnings—and how to try to get them to listen.
Keep reading Show less

Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Videos
  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Keep reading Show less

New study explores how to navigate 'desire discrepancies' in long term relationships

With the most common form of female sexual dysfunction impacting 1 in 10 women, this important study dives into how to keep a relationship going despite having different needs and wants in the bedroom.

NDAB Creativity / Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study highlights the difficulties faced by women who struggle with decreased sexual desire, and explains how to navigate desire discrepancies in long-term relationships.
  • Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is one of the most common forms of female sexual dysfunction, impacting an estimated 1 in 10 women.
  • Finding other ways to promote intimacy in your relationship is one of the keys to ensuring happiness on both sides.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast