Researcher: Struggle of older adults will fuel innovation in alcohol treatment

Advances in neuroscience already are broadening the addiction field’s understanding of the effects of alcohol, but a leading researcher sees a societal factor playing a major role in quickening the pace of further discovery.

“An emerging challenge over the next 20 years is the trend for aging adults to initiate or re-engage in binge drinking,” says John Clapp, PhD, professor and executive vice dean at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. “Over the last 30 years we’ve been viewing binge drinking as a college kid problem.”

Clapp sees the age group from the early 50s to late 60s as particularly vulnerable, and he tells Addiction Professional that this group’s struggles will heighten the demand for new alcohol-related initiatives.

A new generation of medications to treat alcohol dependence could result from this added attention, though Clapp points out that the discussion of medications should not be divorced from a push for more comprehensive treatment that also includes effective therapy.

“What seems to work best in clinical trials is a more comprehensive, holistic approach,” says Clapp.

Uniting the field

This summer, Clapp will deliver the Aug. 22 closing plenary presentation at the National Conference on Alcohol and Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in Anaheim. Calif., an event presented by the publishers of Addiction Professional. His talk is titled “A Call to Action: Ensuring that Addiction Practice and Policy Are Driven by Research.”

Repeating an often-heard lament in the field, he says, “There is a gigantic lag in the time it takes [for research findings] to get from bench to bedside, with most things never getting there.” At NCAD he will discuss strategies for closing the gap separating research, practice and policy, and the role addiction treatment professionals can play in bringing this about.

“Practitioners are the biggest group; they have the loudest collective voice,” Clapp says. “But they have to engage the others in the dialogue.”

Exceptions

Where Clapp does see encouraging examples of research quickly being translated into practical applications is in the e-health realm. Scientific discovery is quickly being applied to new products and tools that can help individuals maintain sobriety, he says.

Technology also will help generate another trend, he points out. “I think that in the next 10 to 20 years we will see a substantial reduction in drunk driving,” he says, resulting from wider use of ride sharing, driverless cars and alcohol sensors that can render vehicles immobile. Ironically, cars with older technology likely will be dominant in developing countries, where drink driving rates could increase as a result, Clapp says.

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