A Brief History of the Division on Addiction

During 1990, a Harvard Medical School (HMS) planning committee recommended the creation of a division to direct the school’s educational, medical, and scientific resources toward alleviating the vast and complex array of public health problems caused by addictive behaviors. This mandate led to the 1992 opening of the Division on Addiction (formerly known as the Division on Addictions; the Division) at Harvard Medical School under the Direction of Steven Hyman, MD, who later would become the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Upon Dr. Hyman’s departure, Howard J. Shaffer, PhD, CAS became the Director of the Division during 1995. The Harvard Medical School assigned Dr. Shaffer and the Division with the task of coordinating research, education, training, and communication relevant to substance abuse at HMS and its primary affiliated teaching hospitals.

Over the years, the Division deepened and broadened its scope both within and outside the university. The Division has provided a critical link between HMS students, the clinical and research scientists at Harvard, other medical education communities, and the lay public. Through its continuing medical education, faculty development courses, research collaborations with other HMS and non-HMS faculty, fellowship training programs, and visiting scholars program, the Division continues to have a meaningful influence on the public health and medical communities. Further, The Division is reaching additional communities through its public forums, public education activities, middle school curriculum development, and high school student internship program.

The Division is now located within the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital. Debi A. LaPlante, PhD succeeded Dr. Shaffer as Division Director during 2019. The Division’s recent work has resulted in groundbreaking research in a variety of areas, including the epidemiology of addiction and co-occurring disorders, as well as technology-based programs to assess and intervene with repeat DUI offenders and Internet gamblers. The Division has been a leader in advancing theory driven approaches to the study and treatment of addiction, as well as open science principles and practices. Division faculty members have published hundreds of scholarly publications that are advancing our understanding of addiction. Most notably, during 2004, Division researchers led by Dr. Howard Shaffer proposed a Syndrome Model of Addiction to help explain the trajectory of addictive behavior and this work was summarized in a two volume handbook from the American Psychological Association, the APA Addiction Syndrome Handbook.

To learn more about the Division, we invite you to explore the rest of the website for details related to Division publications, research, education and training initiatives, and other resources.