by Alice K. Boatwright
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are among the country's most widespread public health problems and they present an unusual set of medical and social challenges.
They differ from other health problems in a number of ways that affect both the research and treatment communities, says Constance Weisner, a senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group and the School of Public Health.
For example, people usually enter treatment for alcohol problems because of some external pressure rather than for prevention or because they have symptoms.
Additionally, significant percentage of the public health problem stems from moderate or periodic drinkers and people who are in periods of life where they drink more than usual, such as college students, Weisner explains.
The issue of how to best treat alcohol problems has also led to controversy. In the United States there is a strong belief in much of the treatment community that complete abstinence is the only successful treatment for alcoholism.
"As researchers, we're...trying to develop options that look at improvement, as well as abstinence," says Weisner.
"In the context of managed care, all kinds of questions arise," she says, "because alcoholism treatment crosses over into so many different areas."
Weisner is conducting studies on access, treatment outcome and cost-effectiveness in public and private programs for the Alcohol Research Group on campus. ARG is one of 14 such centers funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes on Health.
On Nov. 5, Weisner and ARG Director Raul Caetano, adjunct associate professors of public health, have arranged a public, two-day conference on innovations in the treatment and prevention of alcoholism.
Among topics are studies conducted at the primary care level; the legitimacy of improvement as well as abstinence; the role of in-patient care in managed care; types of treatment and services; and populations such as women and minorities.
Speakers include physicians Thomas McLellan of the University of Pennsylvania, who developed the Addiction Severity Index; Richard Frank of Harvard, a financing expert who worked on federal health care reform; and John Finney of the VA and Stanford, who has conducted meta-analysis of treatment outcome studies. Caetano will discuss ethnicity and drinking problems and Weisner will present her recent findings. Keynoter Robert Huebner, chief of NIAAA's Health Services Research Program, will talk on disseminating research findings.
"Innovations in Alcohol Treatment and Prevention: Contributions from Health Services Research"
Thursday-Friday, Nov. 6-7, 8:30 am-4:30 pm
The fee (including materials and lunch) is $35 a day or $60 for both. To enroll, call UC Berkeley Extension, 642-4111, or visit the Extension website.