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J Public Health Policy. 2004;25(2):211-28.

Biomedicalization and alcohol studies: implications for policy.

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University of California at Berkeley, School of Social Welfare, 94720-7400, USA.


The reduction of alcohol problems to genetic and biological processes is not new; however, biomedicalization is progressively dominating how alcohol issues are viewed in the U.S. This paper illustrates the process of biomedicalization in the alcohol field by examining: 1) the organizational move of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to the National Institutes of Health in 1992; 2) the emphasis on biomedical goals in NIAAA's five-year Strategic Plan; 3) increased NIAAA funding of biomedical research from 1990-2002; and, 4) trends in the growing proportion of biomedical information provided in NIAAA's Reports to Congress. The implications of this dominance of the biomedical approach on policy are profound. As biomedicalization prevails as a dominant lens by which alcohol problems are framed, policymakers will tend to move towards individualistic solutions to social problems. Broader community and societal based efforts to understand and control alcohol problems may be increasingly replaced by a focus on individuals thereby omitting important environmental factors.

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