Charles P. O’Brien, MD PhD

Charles P. O’Brien, a native of New Orleans, earned M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Tulane University. His residency training was in internal medicine, neurology and psychiatry at Harvard, Tulane, University of London, and the University of Pennsylvania. He is board certified in neurology, psychiatry and addiction psychiatry.

During his tenure as Chief of Psychiatry at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center (9,000 patients), he also founded a clinical research program including both VA and University of Pennsylvania scientists. This research group has continued for 43 years and has been supported primarily by competitive NIH funding. The group’s findings have had a major impact on the treatment of addictive disorders. Their findings have resulted in numerous discoveries described in over 500 publications:

  • Discovered basic information on the biology of addiction
  • Showed that brain changes are created during addiction that persist and later can produce relapse to compulsive drug taking
  • Improved results of treatment for addictive disorders
  • Developed new medications for the prevention of relapse, such as naltrexone for alcoholism
  • Developed instruments for measuring the severity of addictive disorders
  • Conducted trials on preventing relapse by combining medication with behavioral treatments
  • Led the discovery that alcohol stimulates the endogenous opioid system, leading to a completely new treatment for alcoholism
  • Discovered a genetic mutation in some alcoholics that produces better results for naltrexone treatment of alcoholism
  • These discoveries are now utilized in common practice for the treatment of addictive disorders throughout the world.

Recognition and Awards:

  • Elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1991
  • Received numerous research and teaching awards:
    • Received the Nathan B. Eddy award for research on addiction from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence in 2003
    • American Psychiatric Association Research Award in 2000
    • 2010 Gold Medal for Research from the Society on Biological Psychiatry
    • Sarnat International Prize for Mental Health from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science
    • 2012 the Jellinek International Award for Alcoholism Research
    • 2012 Isaacson Award for Alcoholism Research
  • Was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bordeaux France in 1994
  • Since the 1970s, he has been an adviser on drug policy to local and to the national governments of Germany, France, England and the World Health Organization and he has chaired or served as member of numerous U.S. Institute of Medicine committees dealing with science and drug abuse policy matters.
  • From 2007-13 he served as chairman of the Substance Use Disorders Committee for the American Psychiatric Association. This is the revised classification of mental illness, also known as DSM-5.
  • O’Brien is past president of the American College of Neuro-psychopharmacology and of the Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease.
  • In October 2013 the French government awarded him the medal of Knight Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of the Republic of France for his achievements in the science of addiction and for his contributions to French-American research collaborations. For video click here.