Addiction diagnoses to rise

I’ve posted before about problems with the proposed approach to addiction in the DSM-5.

These changes were intended to clear up language problems, specifically the conflation of dependence and addiction leading to “false positives” for addiction. Looks like the DSM-5 is causing its own language problems before it’s even adopted. [emphasis mine]

Many scholars believe that the new manual will increase addiction rates. A study by Australian researchers found, for example, that about 60 percent more people would be considered addicted to alcohol under the new manual’s standards. Association officials expressed doubt, however, that the expanded addiction definitions would sharply increase the number of new patients, and they said that identifying abusers sooner could prevent serious complications and expensive hospitalizations.

Further, I’m pretty skeptical of the suggestion that the current abuse diagnostic category constitutes a medical illness requiring any kind of medical treatment, and they are looking forward to the new criteria being more inclusive and being classified as having form of addiction?

The article demonstrates that the inevitable slide into viewing low-severity AOD problems as the first stage of addiction:

“We can treat them earlier,” said Dr. Charles P. O’Brien, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and the head of the group of researchers devising the manual’s new addiction standards. “And we can stop them from getting to the point where they’re going to need really expensive stuff like liver transplants.”

On top of this, conflicts of interest are being exposed. It’s pretty clear that this would be a major boon for drug companies, particularly with the Affordable Care Act simultaneously increasing access to healthcare for people with AOD problems and increasing physician responsibility to treat AOD problems that they are poorly equipped to address.

Some critics of the new manual have said that it has been tainted by researchers’ ties to pharmaceutical companies.

“The ties between the D.S.M. panel members and the pharmaceutical industry are so extensive that there is the real risk of corrupting the public health mission of the manual,” said Dr. Lisa Cosgrove, a fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, who published a study in March that said two-thirds of the manual’s advisory task force members reported ties to the pharmaceutical industry or other financial conflicts of interest.

Dr. Scully, the association’s chief, said the group had required researchers involved with writing the manual to disclose more about financial conflicts of interest than was previously required.

Dr. O’Brien, who led the addiction working group, has been a consultant for several pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis, all of which make drugs marketed to combat addiction.

He has also worked extensively as a paid consultant for Alkermes, a pharmaceutical company, studying a drug, Vivitrol, that combats alcohol and heroin addiction by preventing craving. He was the driving force behind adding “craving” to the new manual’s list of recognized symptoms of addiction.

“I’m quite proud to have played a role, because I know that craving plays such an important role in addiction,” Dr. O’Brien said, adding that he had never made any money from the sale of drugs that treat craving.

Dr. Howard B. Moss, associate director for clinical and translational research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in Bethesda, Md., described opposition from many researchers to adding “craving” as a symptom of addiction. He added that he quit the group working on the addiction chapter partly out of frustration with what he described as a lack of scientific basis in the decision making.

“The more people diagnosed with cravings,” Dr. Moss said, “the more sales of anticraving drugs like Vivitrol or naltrexone.”

3 Comments

Filed under Controversies, Mental Health, Policy, Research, Treatment

3 responses to “Addiction diagnoses to rise

  1. I’m afraid Dr. Moss’s comments about cravings betray the current state of affairs at NIAAA, and why they are about to absorbed into a new addiction institute at NIH. Awhile ago, the NIAAA lost the ability to distinguish between alcoholism and heavy drinking. Now they appear to have lost track of how craving drives addiction. Sad.

  2. Thanks Dirk. I’m concerned about the inclusion of craving myself. You seem to know more about the internal machinations of the various institutions than I do.

    My reluctance shouldn’t be interpreted as a signal that I think craving is unimportant. It seems like the question is whether to include the subjective internal symptom or whether to limit the diagnostic criteria to the behavioral manifestations of that symptom, making diagnosis a little less subjective.

    Knowing that diagnostic criteria are likely to be applied in a manner that is very inclusive (rather than exclusive) I’d favor erring in the direction of making them tighter.