National experts to gather for 'groundbreaking' alcohol, drug abuse, chemical intolerance meeting

August 30, 2005

CHAPEL HILL - Top experts on drug and alcohol abuse and chemical intolerance from around the United States will gather at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park Sept. 19 and 20 for a unique conference on what causes those debilitating conditions.

Among institutions represented will be Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Washington State universities, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the universities of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Texas.

"This meeting will be ground-breaking on several accounts," said Dr. David H. Overstreet of the UNC School of Medicine who is co-chairing the event. "It will bring together for the first time experts in two fields that have never before come together formally.

"Researchers in drug and alcohol abuse will share their ideas with researchers in chemical intolerance, which includes such issues as 'sick' buildings, Gulf War syndrome and exposure to pesticides," said Overstreet, a professor at UNC's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. "It is also the first time that the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences will co-sponsor a meeting with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism."

The event's purpose will be to explore increasingly promising common ground between the two fields, he said. Among subjects to be discussed will be "TILT," a new disease mechanism also referred to as "toxicant-induced loss of tolerance."

That mechanism appears related to respiratory illnesses such as asthma, neurological conditions including depression and migraine headaches and autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, Overstreet said. It also has been linked to addictions to drugs, alcohol and food and how people differ in their reactions to various environmental substances such as pollutants.

"Although there have been some advances in alcoholism treatment, such as the addition of acamprosate (Campral) to the treatment arsenal, our meeting will focus on mechanisms underlying alcohol and drug abuse compared to those underlying chemical intolerance," he said. "Such information sharing may ultimately lead to new and better treatments that work in both fields."

Among speakers will be Drs. Ting-Kai Li, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md., Samuel Wilson, deputy director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in RTP, and conference chair Claudia Miller of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

In a paper published in 2004, Li and colleagues wrote that 18 million Americans, or more than 7 percent, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence and that one in four children younger than 18 is exposed to family alcohol problems. An estimated 100,000 deaths each year are associated with alcohol.

"In addition to the individual and family toll of alcohol use disorders, there is a significant economic cost to our nation -- an estimated $185 billion annually, a large portion of which can be attributed to health-care costs from medical problems directly or indirectly ascribed to alcohol use," Li wrote. "Estimates of the number of hospital admissions in the United States that are alcohol related range from 20 percent to 40 percent."

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes such symptoms as craving to drink and loss of control -- not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun, Overstreet said.

"Other symptoms include physical dependence resulting in the negative effects of withdrawal such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety after stopping drinking," he said. "Also, alcoholics develop a tolerance so that they need to drink greater amounts to get high."
More information about the conference is available at Registration is free.

UNC News Services

Note: Overstreet can be reached at (919) 966-1159 or

UNC News Services Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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