Emory Report
February 23, 2009
Volume 61, Number 21



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February 23
, 2009
Addiction forum takes holistic view

By Carol Clark

What roles do biology, politics, society, culture and history play in addiction? Leading scholars will gather on campus to discuss this question during the “Conference on Addiction, the Brain and Society,” Feb. 26-28.

David Courtwright, a renowned addiction historian from the University of North Florida, will deliver the keynote for the international gathering, which features 20 leading researchers from Emory, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the National Cancer Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, the American Enterprise Institute, Florida State University, the Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of New South Wales, Australian National University and the London School of Economics. Among the fields represented in the line-up are neuroscience, biology, public health, psychology, psychiatry, gender studies, biotechnology and epidemiology.

“Everybody has a different definition of addiction,” says Arri Eisen, senior lecturer in biology and director of Emory’s Science and Society program, one of the conference hosts. “It’s not often that a historian studying addiction sits down with a molecular biologist who is also focused on that topic. Our aim is to spark new ideas and collaborations.”

For more information about the conference, visit: scienceandsociety.emory.edu.

The conference marks the latest chapter in a project that started several years ago on campus, to take an integrated approach to addressing addiction and depression in college students. “We wanted to pick a complicated problem and figure out a way to integrate residential life with intellectual life and the larger community,” Eisen explains. “We developed a model of thinking about student health holistically. Instead of just telling students not to smoke, we decided to engage them in learning the history of smoking, the biology of it, and the history of how it affects communities.”

The project aims to strengthen the campus network required to ensure optimal mental health. “All of these different constituencies across campus are interested in better mental health for students, but they rarely talk with each other,” Eisen explains.

A combined seminar/internship, “The History and Biology of Addiction and Depression,” was taught to 22 sophomores in a residence hall. All of the students interacted in the classroom, as well as in laboratories and clinics, with a primatologist studying addiction, psychiatrists working with severely depressed patients, molecular biologists examining the neurochemicals of depressed students, a psychologist using rats as a model system, a public health practitioner interviewing addicts in the field, a psychologist counseling students and a medical historian looking at the historical context of addiction and depression.

A team of faculty involved in the project recently wrote an editorial about the positive reaction of students, and urged other institutions to adopt similar models. The article was published in the January/February issue of the Journal of American College Health, and can be seen at ejournals.emory.edu.