Addictive Disorders: Updates and Findings


An introduction to the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and its coverage of topics such as alcohol use disorders, e-cigarettes, prescription opioid use and abuse, cannabis use, stimulant use, medical marijuana, gambling, and opioid antagonist therapy to prevent overdose.


The 25th Annual Meeting and Symposium of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP), will take place at the Turnberry Isle Hotel, Aventura, Florida, from December 4 to 7, 2014. The conference is an excellent way to learn about public policies that affect clinical practice.

This year’s meeting features an array of talks about the legal, clinical, and practical manifestations about marijuana. One of the highlighted symposia (Symposium II: What is the Evidence of Harm To Adolescents Using Cannabis? A Critical Review of the Data, presented by David Atkinson, MD, Christopher Hammond, MD, Kevin Gray, MD, Scott Krakower, DO and Greg Tau, MD, PhD) discusses the latest research on the effects of marijuana on adolescents.

More interactive forums include a workshop on the manifestations of legalization of marijuana (presented by Kevin Hill, MD, MHS; Herbert Kleber, MD and Richard Ries, MD) and the meeting is host to a marijuana special interest group (Chair Kevin Hill, MD, MHS), open to all members who attend the annual meeting.

The issue of cannabis use is particularly timely, in light of the most recent election in which voters in several new states (Alaska and Oregon) joined Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational marijuana and voters in the District of Columbia elected to decriminalize it. This is in addition to the total of 23 states and the District of Columbia which have legalized medical marijuana; Florida voters recently only narrowly defeated an initiative on medical marijuana. The clinical manifestations of this changing legal landscape for mental health professionals, including those treating addictive disorders, may be profound.

This is only one of the timely topics highlighted at the upcoming meeting which covers a broad range of addiction subjects. Interestingly, many of these areas are also influenced by public policy and include electronic cigarettes, prescription opioid use and abuse (particularly as it pertains to the growing number of prescription data monitoring programs), and the use of opioid antagonist therapy to prevent opioid overdose.

The meeting also features some of the latest findings in diagnosing and treating alcohol use disorders, including a symposium reviewing the latest findings on the pharmacogenetics of alcohol pharmacotherapy (Symposium I: Pharmacogenetically Driven Treatments for Drug and Alcohol Dependence, presented by Albert Arias, MD; Henry Kranzler, MD, David Oslin, MD and Thomas Kosten, MD) and a special address from the new Director of the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) (Keynote Address: What Science Can Tell us About the Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment of Alcoholism), Dr George Koob, on the science behind diagnosis prevention and treatment of alcohol use disorders.

For those interested in stimulant abuse, other addictions such as gambling behavior, behavioral treatments, or comorbidity sessions that feature topics in these areas include symposia or workshops on motivational interviewing, family therapy, the latest in stimulant abuse research, specialty care for women, and psychosocial and pharmacologic interventions to treat comorbid PTSD.

The AAAP annual meeting is not just about lectures of the latest addiction treatment findings. While reading or attending lectures is informative, learning is augmented by interactive and case-based sessions. These are prevalent at the annual meeting and include traditional workshops and clinical case conferences and opportunities to interact with experts in the field both informally and in a session called “Desert With the Experts,” a small group forum with a number of diverse but clinically relevant topics.

Along with the scientific and the clinical updates, the highlight of the meeting is the opportunity for networking. Given that it is a relatively small meeting, it easy to meet others, to talk in person with experts in the field, and to learn practical information that can be incorporated into clinical practice. The meeting is particularly welcoming for trainees and early-career psychiatrists and features a session discussing options for careers in addiction psychiatry.

Networking opportunities extend to allow attendees to connect with colleagues in one’s own geographic region. The AAAP is made up of 9 regions (or “Areas”). Each Area has an Area Director, who facilitates the Area Directors Session at the annual meeting. The Area Directors Session is another small group venue and provides an opportunity for attendees to connect with others from the same geographic region and to discuss common areas of interest or concern. Because some of the concerns of mental health professionals on the front line are influenced by the regional or local policies of issues (eg, marijuana laws and laws governing the prescription data monitoring program), this regional component gives attendees another opportunity to join a community of providers who grapple with similar issues.

Changing public policies affect mental health professionals in their everyday work  treating patients. Education about these issues, whether obtained by reading articles or attending national meetings, can help psychiatrists and other professionals keep abreast of these complicated issues. Further, facing those challenges with the help of a community of providers who deal with these same issues, guided by experts in the field, would seem like a more satisfying way to cope with the changes than facing them alone.


Dr Petrakis is Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, in New Haven, Connecticut, and Chief of Psychiatry at VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, Connecticut. She reports that she serves on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

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