The Craving Brain

The neuroscience of uncontrollable urges

The Researchers

Nora D. Volkow
Kim Janda
Eric Nestler
Amir Levine

Counseling... therapy... self-control. The path to curing addiction has never been easy. Addiction short-circuits the brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine and other feel-good chemicals that keep you coming back for more. But through a steadily developing understanding of the brain, scientists foresee a future in which a simple medical procedure—even a shot or a pill—could defuse addiction’s power. Join leading researchers studying how addiction changes the very fabric of the brain, and what new insights could mean for addicts trying to win back their lives.

In this webcast recorded at the World Science Festival, Nora D. Volkow, Kim Janda, Eric Nestler, and Amir Levine discuss how addiction changes the very fabric of the brain, and what new insights could mean for addicts trying to win back their lives.


  • Nora D. Volkow is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at NIH. She pioneered the use of brain imaging to investigate the effects of drugs in the human brain and has demonstrated that drug addiction is a brain disease. She has published more than 600 scientific articles and edited three books. She has received multiple awards, including membership in the Institute of Medicine, named one of Time Magazine’s “Top 100 People Who Shape our World,” included as “One of the 20 People to Watch” by Newsweek magazine and named “Innovator of the Year” by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Kim Janda is a professor of chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute whose research efforts merge biology and chemistry. He has investigated using the immune system to target drug addiction, catalytic antibodies, and creating molecules to treat cancer. He is the director of the Worm Institute of Research and Medicine and a Skaggs Scholar within the Skaggs Institute of Chemical Biology, also at The Scripps Research Institute. He is a current member of the NIH Study Section: Vaccines Against Microbial Diseases. He serves on multiple editorial review boards and has received many awards, including the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and NIH FIRST Award.
  • Eric Nestler is a neuroscientist, professor of psychiatry, and chair of the neuroscience department at Mount Sinai, and the director of the Friedman Brain Institute. His work uses animal models to better understand the molecular mechanisms behind addiction and depression with the goal of developing improved treatments for these disorders. Nestler is a scientific advisory board member for the Center for Brain Health and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received his PhD and MD from Yale University and has won many awards, including the Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health from the Institute of Medicine.
  • Amir Levine is an adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York and The Center of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. He conducts translational research in adolescent psychiatry. He became interested in the power of attachment when working with mothers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This led Levine to co-author the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love, which has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Scientific American Mind, The Sunday Times, Glamour, Elle and other publications. It has been translated into nine languages.


  • Elizabeth Vargas has covered breaking news stories, reported in-depth investigations and conducted newsmaker interviews around the world since joining ABC News in 1996. During the historic Iraqi elections in December 2005, she anchored the network’s “World News” from Baghdad. She won an Emmy in 2000 for Outstanding Instant Coverage of a News Story for anchoring live coverage of the Elian Gonzalez case. The New York Times in 2004 cited Vargas for her “intellectually brave” reporting on the 1998 anti-gay hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard. Her 2003 special “In the Shadow of Laci Peterson” examined why the disappearances of several young women in northern California failed to attract the same media attention as the Peterson case. Vargas co-anchored “World News” with Bob Woodruff before joining the network’s “20/20” news magazine, of which she is the co-anchor. She was previously the anchor of “World News Tonight Sunday” and was also a frequent substitute anchor on “Good Morning America,” as well as a correspondent for “20/20” and “Primetime Thursday” and a co-anchor of “Primetime Monday.” Before joining ABC, she worked at NBC News.

This program is part of “The Big, the Small, and the Complex,” a World Science Festival series exploring the latest developments in Astrophysics, Nanoscience, and Neuroscience—fields recognized by The Kavli Prize. Sponsored by The Kavli Foundation, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and the Royal Norwegian Consulate General.

Read More

  • Addiction: Can the Brain Control Our Uncontrollable Urges?


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