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NIAAA logo   National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
Mission | Important Events | Director | Programs | Appropriations


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) supports and conducts biomedical and behavioral research on the causes, consequences, treatment, and prevention of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems. NIAAA also provides leadership in the national effort to reduce the severe and often fatal consequences of these problems by:

  • conducting and supporting research directed at determining the causes of alcoholism, discovering how alcohol damages the organs of the body, and developing prevention and treatment strategies for application in the Nation’s health care system;
  • supporting and conducting research across a wide range of scientific areas including genetics, neuroscience, metabolism, tissue injury, medical consequences, medication development, prevention, and treatment through the award of grants and within the NIAAA’s intramural research program;
  • conducting policy studies that have broad implications for alcohol problem prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation activities of alcohol disorders;
  • conducting epidemiological studies such as national and community surveys to assess risks for and magnitude of alcohol-related problems among various population groups;
  • collaborating with other research institutes and Federal programs on alcohol abuse and alcoholism issues of mutual interest and coordinating alcohol abuse and alcoholism research activities;
  • maintaining continuing relationships with institutions and professional associations; with international, national, state, and local officials; and with voluntary agencies and organizations engaged in alcohol-related work; and
  • disseminating research findings to health care providers, researchers, policymakers, and the public.

Important Events in NIAAA History

December 31, 1970 – NIAAA was established under authority of the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act of 1970 (P.L. 91-616) with authority to develop and conduct comprehensive health, education, training, research, and planning programs for the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

May 14, 1974 – Passage of P.L. 93-282, establishing NIAAA, NIMH, and NIDA as coequal institutes within the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

July 26, 1976 – Expansion of NIAAA’s research authority to include behavioral and biomedical etiology of the social and economic consequences of alcohol abuse and alcoholism under authority of the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Act amendments of 1976 (P.L. 94-371).

August 1981 – Passage of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-35), transferring responsibility and funding for alcoholism treatment services to the states through the creation of an Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Services block grant administered by ADAMHA and strengthened NIAAA’s research mission.

October 27, 1986 – Creation of a new Office for Substance Abuse Prevention in ADAMHA by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-570) consolidated the remainder of NIAAA’s nonresearch prevention activities with those of NIDA and permitted NIAAA’s total commitment to provide national stewardship to alcohol research.

July 10, 1992 – NIAAA became a new NIH research institute under authority of ADAMHA Reorganization Act (P.L. 102-321).

May 3, 1995 – NIAAA celebrated its 25th anniversary.

NIAAA Directors

Date of Birth
In Office From
Morris E. Chafitz Apr. 20, 1924 1972 Sept. 1, 1975
Ernest P. Noble Apr. 2, 1929 February 1976 April 1978
Loran Archer (Acting) Nov. 26, 1929

April 1978
November 1981
January 1986

April 1979
July 1982
October 1986
John R. DeLuca Jan. 23, 1944 May 1979 October 1981
William E. Mayer (Acting) Sept. 24, 1923 August 1982 July 1983
Robert G. Niven Jan. 23, 1944 August 1983 December 1985
Enoch Gordis Feb. 21, 1931 November 1986 January 2002
Raynard Kington July 7, 1960 January 2002 November 2002
Ting-Kai Li November 13, 1934 November 2002  

Programs and Activities
Extramural | Intramural

NIAAA supports research and research training through a program of extramural grant support to scientists at leading U.S. research institutions, through interdisciplinary National Alcohol Research Centers Program grants, and through active intramural research. Additionally, NIAAA is involved in a number of important collaborations within NIH and the international community. Findings from these research endeavors are made available and accessible through a variety of research dissemination activities.

Extramural Research

NIAAA’s extramural research support is aimed at building a solid base of biomedical and behavioral knowledge for improved prevention and treatment of alcohol-related problems. Scientists from a variety of disciplines, including social and behavioral sciences, biology, and medicine participate in the extramural program. Current directions in extramural research span diverse areas such as genetic predisposition to alcoholism, the neurosciences, alcohol and pregnancy research, the development of pharmacological and behavioral interventions to treat alcohol abuse and alcoholism and its effects, and alcohol-related public health policies. Selected extramural program highlights are provided below.

Genetics. Alcoholism has been recognized for centuries as a familial disorder, and over the last 30 years, NIAAA-supported twin, family, and adoption studies have indicated major roles of both genetic and environmental factors in its etiology. Today, twin studies are defining more precisely those aspects of alcoholism that are genetically inherited. Vulnerability to alcoholism is influenced by multiple genes, whose precise number, identity, and modes of action are as yet unknown. NIAAA supports genetic linkage and association studies in affected individuals and their families, in order to identify these genes. The largest such study, initiated in 1989, has recently published suggestive evidence for the locations of several such genes, based on detailed diagnostic evaluations of more than 14,000 individuals drawn from families densely affected by alcoholism, and genetic typing of more than 2,000 individuals selected from this sample.

In addition to human genetic studies, NIAAA supports a vigorous program of genetic analysis of alcohol-related behavior in animals. NIAAA-funded selective breeding studies on mice and rats have shown that many alcohol-related behavioral traits (for example, consumption, sedation, withdrawal, hypothermia, locomotor stimulation) are genetically influenced, and that, for the most part, different genes influence the different traits. Much of the current genetic research is focused on mapping and identifying the individual genes, or quantitative trait loci (QTL) influencing these traits. Since gene identification proceeds more rapidly in animals than in humans, and since human counterparts of animal genes can readily be tested for potential relationship to alcoholism, the animal genetic studies are expected to speed the discovery of human genes influencing vulnerability to alcoholism. More recently, investigators have been using mutations targeted to specific components of nerve cells (gene knockouts), as well as randomly generated mutant mice with altered alcohol-related behavior in order to test the role of these components in mediating alcohol's effects on the nervous system.

Identification of genes predisposing to alcoholism will greatly facilitate elucidation of the physiological pathways mediating the development of this disorder. Each step in each pathway so identified is a potential target for prevention and treatment. Moreover, knowledge of the genes predisposing to alcoholism will permit the design of more powerful studies to determine which environmental factors influence this disease.

The NIAAA also supports studies to determine the respective contributions of the environment and genetics to differential susceptibility of alcohol-related medical disorders such as liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Alcohol and Pregnancy. NIAAA supports research to determine why and how alcohol consumption during pregnancy results in adverse consequences for the fetus, the most serious of which is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a disorder that includes reduced growth, facial abnormalities, and neurological and behavioral impairment. Laboratory studies have identified several cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to these defects, which may provide a basis for possible preventive therapies.

Epidemiological and clinical studies to determine environmental and other factors (e.g., cultural norms and genetic predisposition) that place women at risk of giving birth to a FAS child are supported in order to develop and target prevention and intervention efforts more effectively. The development of biomarkers to confirm exposure to the fetus can aid in the identification of high risk mothers and target high risk infants for evaluation by medical specialists. NIAAA also supports and encourages research that develops and/or evaluates community-, clinic-, and family-based strategies to prevent drinking by pregnant women, especially those at excess risk of bearing an alcohol-impaired child.

The effects of binge and low-level or moderate drinking on prenatal development are of special concern because these patterns of drinking are so prevalent. Longitudinal human studies have shown that behavioral problems can occur at these levels of prenatal exposure. Neuroimaging studies of children with FAS and some manifestations of the syndrome, in conjunction with neurobehavioral tests, are providing clues about the nature of neurodevelopmental deficits and may lead to better diagnosis and treatment of these disorders.

NIAAA chairs the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (ICCFAS), which was created in October 1996 in response to a report by an expert committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM report, entitled Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment, recommended that NIAAA chair a Federal effort to coordinate FAS activities since the responsibility for addressing the many issues relevant to FAS transcends the mission and resources of any single agency or program. Currently the ICCFAS includes representatives from the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, and seven agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services. Since 1996 individual agencies have made substantial progress in expanding or adapting existing programs to address FAS/ARND.

NIAAA is launching a five year Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD), a program to inform and develop effective interventions and treatment approaches for the full spectrum of neurological disorders caused by fetal alcohol exposure. CIFASD will comprise highly integrated, multidisciplinary research projects in five domains, including basic science, neurobehavior, morphology/neuroanatomy, neuropharmacology, and early intervention. It is anticipated that CIFASD will create unprecedented opportunities for collaboration and integration of resources that will significantly accelerate the translation of important scientific discoveries to clinical practice.

Neurosciences. NIAAA funds research designed to identify the neural mechanisms underlying alcohol abuse and alcoholism. This research encompasses all levels of study, from determining the molecular targets of alcohol in the brain, through characterizing the effects of alcohol on cellular responses and neuronal function, to identifying and understanding neural pathways and neural circuits that mediate various effects of acute and chronic alcohol exposure. This research employs a variety of state-of-the-art methodologies. Molecular biology and genetic techniques are being used for the development of transgenic animals in studies seeking to link the actions of alcohol on specific target proteins and neural circuits with its behavioral effects. Noninvasive, functional imaging techniques are being used in animal and human studies to identify the brain regions influenced by alcohol. Such studies are being coupled with multi-unit electrophysiological recordings in the brain to provide more specific information on those cellular mechanisms underlying activation or inhibition of neural circuits after alcohol ingestion. Moreover, the development of computational or mathematical models of brain structure and function, based on data obtained from this experimental research, should afford an additional complement to the analysis of alcohol's effects on nervous system function and behavior.

Neuroscience is also beginning to understand how stress and other environmental influences can contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Researchers are differentiating neural pathways in the brain that are activated by stressful events, and how their stimulation may have an effect on drinking patterns. NIAAA supports research to identify the clusters of genes that underlie behavioral responses, such as excessive alcohol consumption, drinking in response to stress, or relapse into alcohol dependency. These studies will improve our knowledge of the interaction of genes and the environment and will contribute to the ultimate goal of developing improved ways to treat and prevent alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Experimental studies of aggression in animals make it possible to study the causal influence of alcohol on aggression and the biology of alcohol-heightened aggression in the absence of cultural influences. Evidence is emerging that biological vulnerability to alcohol-heightened aggression may also underlie the inclination to drink alcohol excessively; however, further research is needed to confirm this relationship.

Research is underway to determine if the adolescent brain is more vulnerable than the adult brain to the negative consequences of alcohol consumption. Indeed, epidemiological studies indicate that the earlier in life individuals begin to seriously drink the greater the likelihood that they will become alcohol dependent. NIAAA is encouraging studies to better understand this vulnerability. This includes the development of non-human primate models to study the adolescent period.

Finally, neuroscience research is providing basic knowledge needed to design medications for potential use as therapeutic agents. The program encourages development of promising new compounds for eventual testing in clinical studies.

Medications Development. NIAAA is strongly committed to the development of pharmacological interventions to diminish the craving for alcohol, reduce risk of relapse, and safely detoxify dependent individuals undergoing treatment. Pharmacologic agents are at various stages of development ranging from preclinical research to clinical application for the treatment of alcoholism. The two most promising medications are naltrexone and acamprosate. Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, has been approved by FDA as a safe and effective adjunct to psychosocial treatment for alcoholism. Acamprosate, a medication that interacts with the glutamate receptor, has been shown effective in increasing rates of abstinence. NIAAA has recently initiated an 11-site clinical trial evaluating the combination of naltrexone and acamprosate, both alone and together, with behavioral therapies.

Since alcohol-seeking behavior is complex and involves several neurotransmitter systems and neurohormones, NIAAA is exploring a range of medications to modify drinking behavior, including ondansetron, a serotonin3 (5-HT3) blocker; memantine, a glutamate NMDA blocker; and kudzu, an herbal preparation. Related topics of interest are medication compliance, differential effect of pharmacotherapies on subtypes of alcoholics, effects of medications when combined with psychosocial interventions, and medications in combination. The medications development program also seeks to develop compounds for potentially fatal alcohol-related medical disorders, such as alcoholic-liver disease, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, alcoholic pancreatitis, as well as to promote tissue regeneration in organs damaged by alcohol.

Alcohol-related Medical Disorders. Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to life-threatening medical complications, including liver cirrhosis, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, and pancreatitis. Alcohol use is also an important risk factor for hepatitis C, stroke, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. The NIAAA supports a wide range of research to elucidate the genetic, metabolic, and immunologic mechanisms of alcohol-induced tissue injury that contribute to the occurrence of these disorders. Molecular approaches and transgenic animals are being used to identify the biochemical pathways that are disrupted by alcohol, leading to organ pathology. These studies will help to identify molecular targets for medications development.

Treatment. NIAAA continues to emphasize research to improve treatment of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. NIAAA-supported studies have demonstrated that brief interventions delivered in primary care health settings are effective for reducing alcohol consumption in heavy drinkers. NIAAA is committed to supporting clinical trials evaluating a broad range of therapies from mutual help groups; behavioral therapies, such as skills training; and psychological therapies, such as motivation intervention and family therapy. Adolescent treatment deserves special emphasis since fewer clinical trials of adolescent treatment have been done than of adult therapies.

Community Prevention Trials. NIAAA funds community-based controlled intervention trials to prevent alcohol-related trauma (including violence), underage drinking, and drinking and driving. One project tests a school/parent/community-focused intervention among economically and ethnically diverse populations, while others test media advocacy strategies, traditional mass media approaches, policy changes, strategies to enhance voluntary and enforced compliance with underage drinking laws, and a variety of community-mobilization techniques. Results to date indicate that: 1) interventions simultaneously focused on schools, parents, and the community-at-large can delay and lessen underage drinking; 2) community organizing efforts can decrease sales (and distribution) of alcohol to youth; 3) community initiatives involving enhanced law enforcement, media and educational campaigns, and public and private collaboration can significantly reduce drinking and driving and alcohol-involved fatal crashes; and 4) enhanced law enforcement and attendant publicity can increase the perceived risk of arrest, which appears to be a critical mediating catalyst for decreased alcohol-related crashes. New methodologies permit prevention researchers to target high-risk neighborhoods within larger cities.

College-Focused Epidemiologic and Prevention Research. A large number of studies are addressing alcohol problems on college campuses, including "binge" drinking. Epidemiologic studies are exploring various aspects of drinking by college students. These studies include: 1) a longitudinal cohort study of college students looking at the transition to college and drinking problems and analyzing drinking trajectories across the college years, and 2) a study investigating the role of alcohol in college students' decisions about engaging in risky sexual behavior. Studies are also testing the efficacy and effectiveness of preventive interventions designed to reduce drinking and problem drinking among college students. These intervention studies focus on: group-counseling and feedback approaches to prevent risky drinking in fraternities and sororities; campus-wide social-norms marketing approaches to reduce high-risk drinking; motivational counseling and feedback strategies targeted at high-risk individuals; laboratory and environmental techniques that challenge positive expectancies about the benefits of alcohol; the relative and additive effectiveness of social norms marketing, direct-mail personal feedback, and skills-training interventions; educational strategies that target parents of college bound freshmen; and comprehensive campus/community policies and programs dealing with alcohol availability, promotion, and formal regulation and control. Some of this research is co-funded by the Department of Education and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Other Prevention Areas. Other composites of grants that are addressing special areas of emphasis include four studies that are measuring the impact of alcohol advertising on youth and adults in terms of their expectancies regarding the benefits and risks of drinking, their intentions to drink, and their actual drinking behavior. Five other studies are testing, through randomized controlled trials, the effectiveness of various sanctions and treatments to prevent recidivism for DWI (drinking while intoxicated). Priority areas that need further development include studies of interventions to prevent work-related alcohol problems, alcohol-related violence, and alcohol-related sexual risk taking that can lead to HIV/AIDS; family-focused preventive interventions; and tests of promising and proven prevention strategies among ethnic minorities.

Health Services Research. NIAAA supports a program of health services research endeavors that seeks to expand understanding of how alcohol treatment and prevention services are organized, managed, financed, and delivered and how these factors influence the availability, quality, cost, utilization, effectiveness, and efficiency of these services. NIAAA-supported studies have demonstrated that brief interventions delivered in primary care, emergency, and other medical settings to alcohol abusers who might not otherwise receive treatment are effective in reducing alcohol consumption and subsequent alcohol-related problems. Similarly, other NIAAA-supported studies have begun to demonstrate that brief and other interventions with alcohol abusers can yield a significant cost benefit savings to society. Other alcohol health services research studies continue to examine the effects of widespread shifts to managed care services, the economic impact of alcohol treatment, and disparities in the availability of alcohol services across racial, ethnic, gender, geographic, and insurance categories. Current research emphases include expanded economic analyses of treatment, improvements in adopting research findings in clinical practice, and secondary analyses of existing health services data.

Epidemiology. Alcohol epidemiology provides the foundation for monitoring the health of the population, developing and evaluating prevention and treatment services for alcohol problems, and establishing alcohol-related social policies. NIAAA conducts and supports research to study the distribution and determinants of alcohol use, abuse, dependence and the associated health and social consequences.

Surveillance activities such as collecting alcohol sales information, U.S. vital statistics, and hospital records are supported to track alcohol consumption and its related problems over time and location. Population-based survey research is encouraged to examine the context, volume, and specific drinking patterns that lead to particular alcohol-related problems as well as the impact of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and other sociodemographic factors. Analytic epidemiological studies which formulate and test hypotheses about genetic, environmental, and other factors that influence injury or disease occurrence are also supported.

Research is funded on the role of alcohol and injuries. The most extensive research has been supported in the role of alcohol in motor vehicle injuries and deaths; however research on the role of alcohol in other injuries, both intentional and unintentional, is also ongoing. The epidemiology of the medical consequences of alcohol use and abuse is an important area of research. Such research includes epidemiologic studies of co-occurring disorders, particularly psychiatric comorbidity and other drug abuse/dependence as well as studies of the risks and benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Methodological studies are also fostered to improve measurement and assessment in all of the above areas of research.

National Alcohol Research Centers Program. The NIAAA supports 15 Alcohol Research Centers nationwide. These Center Grants, which address a broad range of topics, complement other research support mechanisms and scientific activities that investigate the causes, diagnosis, treatment, control, prevention, and consequences of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The program provides long-term (typically 5-year) support for interdisciplinary research that focuses on particular aspects of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, or other alcohol-related problems. The Centers program makes it possible for outstanding scientists from many disciplines to apply a full range of expertise, approaches, and advanced technologies to developing knowledge on alcohol problems. A goal for each center is to become a significant regional or national research resource for a particular aspect of alcohol research. In addition, each center provides research training opportunities for individuals in various disciplines and professions.

Currently, the focus of the alcohol research centers includes the following topics:

  • the genetic determinants of alcohol ingestion;
  • epidemiology of alcohol problems;
  • environmental approaches to prevention;
  • effects of alcohol on cellular neurobiology;
  • alcohol and the cell;
  • etiology and treatment of alcohol dependence;
  • genetic approaches to the neuropharmacology of alcohol;
  • genetics of neuroadaptation to ethanol;
  • etiology and pharmacological treatment of alcoholism;
  • molecular and cellular pathogenesis in alcoholism;
  • translational neuroscience of alcoholism;
  • gene-environment interaction;
  • mechanisms of alcoholic liver and pancreatic disease;
  • ethanol stimulus effects in alcohol abuse; and
  • alcohol, HIV infection and host defense.

Intramural Research

The overall goal of the NIAAA's Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research is to understand the mechanisms by which alcohol produces intoxication, dependence, and damage to vital body organs, and to develop tools to prevent and treat those biochemical and behavioral processes. Areas of study include identification and assessment of genetic and environmental risk factors for the development of alcoholism; the effects of alcohol on the central nervous system, including how alcohol modifies brain activity and behavior; metabolic and biochemical effects of alcohol on various organs and systems of the body; noninvasive imaging of the brain structure and activity related to alcohol use, development of animal models of alcoholism; and the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcoholism and associated disorders.

The Division has been expanding its research portfolio: 1) by conducting studies to assess the role of particular molecular targets of alcohol in acute intoxication and alcohol-seeking behavior; 2) through structural biological analysis of membrane proteins that are targets for alcohol actions; 3) by establishing a research program in liver biology to explore the role of cytokines and cytokine signaling proteins in alcoholic liver disease and viral hepatitis; 4) by studying protein kinase signaling cascades to enhance understanding of the pathogenesis and progression of alcoholic liver disease and a variety of disorders caused by alcohol; 5) by pursuing preliminary findings that indicate that alcohol highly and potently stimulates P13 kinase in vascular endothelial cells in culture and, thus, may play a role in the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption in cardiovascular disease; and 6) by establishing a transgenic/knockout mouse facility to develop new research models to understand the genetic basis of alcohol drinking behavior and alcoholism. The Division has established a sabbatical program to bring prominent extramural scientists into the program and allowing intramural scientists to carry out research at extramural institutions.

NIAAA utilizes a combination of clinical and basic research facilities, which enables a coordinated interaction between basic research findings and clinical applications in pursuit of these goals. An 11-bed inpatient ward and a large outpatient program are located in the NIH Clinical Center.

Clinical Research. Among the studies carried out by the clinical program are 1) sophisticated electrophysiological, neuropsychological, and brain imaging studies on alcoholics, individuals at risk, and carefully matched controls; 2) the first clinical trial to test the efficacy and safety of a cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist for the treatment of alcohol craving; 3) the use of various specific serotonin receptor antagonists to compare differences in serotonin receptor concentration between alcoholic and normal subjects in both nonhuman primate and human populations; 4) investigations of the mechanisms underlying alcohol-related neurotoxicity, as well as the effects of this toxicity on the autonomic nervous system; 5) research on biochemical concomitants of violent behavior in alcoholics and on variables associated with increased vulnerability of developing alcoholism-related behavior; 6) exploring whether the “cognitive style” used by alcoholics is a risk factor for the development of alcoholism; 7) characterizing the role of various neurotransmitter systems in the etiology of alcoholism; and 8) exploration of possible biochemical determinants that might differentiate subtypes of alcoholism.

Genetics of Alcoholism. This research focuses on investigating and identifying the vulnerability and protective genes that underlie alcoholism’s heritability. Studies also have implications for the role of genes in behavior.

Two approaches are being used to identify behavior genes. The first approach uses positional cloning. The second approach uses large-scale screening of candidate genes expressed in the brain for identifying DNA sequence variants. These approaches have the strength of being complementary: the same groups of individuals important in performing the genetic linkage scan are also examined for the effects of gene variants identified through direct gene analysis. In addition, the results of the genetic linkage studies are used to provide candidate genes for identifying new DNA sequence variants.

Genetic and other determinants of alcoholism in population isolates including American Indian communities and Finland are being investigated. Evidence was found for two potential alcoholism-vulnerability genes in an Indian tribe with a high rate of alcoholism.

Other studies investigate the role of neurotransmitters, including corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and serotonin, which are known for their important role in behavioral inhibition and anxiety. Studies also are examining other substances (endogenous opioids, neurotransmitter receptor proteins, and biosynthetic enzymes) that are also critical for alcohol reinforcement and for other behaviors. Toward the goal of determining the genetic basis of behavior, we identified a substantial collection of gene variants in neurogenetic candidate genes and have shown that several are functional in vitro and also effect in vivo biology.

Alcoholic Liver Disease. Researchers in a newly established Section on Liver Biology are exploring the role of cytokines and cytokine signaling proteins in alcoholic liver disease and in non-alcoholic fatty liver. Studies are also aimed at identifying the molecular mechanisms that underlie the synergistic hepatotoxic effect of chronic alcoholism and viral hepatitis.

Alcohol and Essential Fatty Acids. NIAAA researchers are investigating the biological functions of essential fatty acids and the adverse effects of alcohol on these functions. A clinical study of alcoholics has indicated that there is a loss of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids in the tissues and blood cells of these patients. Such losses are believed to be related to the tissue damage that occurs in almost every organ system in alcoholics but particularly in the liver and brain. Alcohol is perhaps the only dietary constituent that is capable of depleting the omega-3 fatty acids from the brain, and this may lead to the degeneration of neural cells and a loss in brain and visual function. An interdisciplinary approach is taken in these studies.

Losses of organ polyunsaturated fats as a consequence of chronic alcohol abuse, the underlying metabolic mechanisms and modulating nutritional factors, and the consequences for membrane function as assessed by biochemical and biophysical means are an integral part of this work. Fluorescence spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging are the principal tools used to study the functions of polyunsaturated phospholipids in membranes. Mass spectrometry is used for sensitive analysis of fatty acid metabolites in humans. Studies are also being conducted on the lipid requirements of the nervous system during early development, and the full range of experimental and clinical approaches available in the laboratory are employed in this effort.

Molecular Mechanisms of Alcohol Action in the Brain. Recent NIAAA research studies have demonstrated that alcohol affects signal transduction systems involved in the regulation of nerve cell excitability and the transmission of information at synapses. Using newly developed physiological and molecular biological techniques, institute scientists are working toward determining the molecular mechanisms of alcohol’s interaction with these signal transduction systems. Scientists also will investigate the molecular alterations of neural function associated with alcohol tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal. This information will improve our understanding of the molecular basis of alcohol dependence and lead to development of treatments and prevention strategies.

Collaborative Research Programs

The Office of Collaborative Research manages several trans-Institute programs, coordinates and serves as NIAAA liaison to NIH for trans-NIH programs and initiates developmental and collaborative projects with NIH Institutes, other government agencies, and national and international non-government and non-profit organizations.

Institutional Training Program. NIAAA Institutional Research Training Grants are authorized under the NIH National Research Service Awards program. Training grants are supported to help ensure that highly trained scientists will be available in adequate numbers and in appropriate research disciplines to meet the Nation's alcohol research needs. Institutions select promising students for predoctoral and/or postdoctoral training in research areas pertinent to understanding the causes, consequences, treatment, and prevention of alcohol-related problems. Special attention is given to recruiting minority individuals and women. Opportunities exist for basic and clinical research training in a variety of disciplines, including social, behavioral, biomedical, and biological sciences.

HIV/AIDS Program. NIAAA has developed a broad behavioral and biomedical portfolio of HIV/AIDS research in response to the changing nature of the AIDS epidemic among alcohol using, abusing, and dependent individuals. This portfolio addresses emerging scientific opportunities for studying the role of alcohol use in HIV-infected and uninfected drinkers. As the epidemic in the United States continues to evolve, minority women and young gay men are increasingly becoming infected. There is an urgent need to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS among substance abusers in these populations by developing a range of targeted preventive interventions. These interventions include behavioral and social interventions and biomedical approaches. The disproportionate impact of HIV infection among alcohol and substance abusers presents additional challenges to biomedical, behavioral, and, clinical researchers to understand the interplay of individual, cultural, economic, and environmental factors in the treatment of AIDS both in the U.S. and abroad.

Health Disparities Research and Training Program. Epidemiological, psychosocial, and biomedical research suggests that some minority groups suffer more severe adverse effects from alcohol than do other populations. Thus, we need to know why alcohol problems are distributed disproportionately across racial and ethnic groups. Groups of particular concern include African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. We also recognize significant variability between subgroups within populations.

Major components of our strategy to address Health Disparities include: promoting alcohol research on issues that affect minority populations; building capacity to conduct alcohol research at minority serving institutions by providing mentoring, training and research support; promoting research career development among minority researchers, educators, health care professionals, and clinicians; and transferring research knowledge to health care professionals and others who serve minority communities for use in practice settings and conveying those practitioners' experiential/clinical knowledge to alcohol researchers who are looking at health disparities issues.

Alcohol Health and Science Education Programs. There is a critical need for research-based knowledge regarding alcohol use and health consequences at all levels of the U. S. education system. This includes K-12, college and graduate programs in the health professions.

The Institute supports several initiatives to better prepare health professionals to identify, prevent, and treat alcohol problems in their patient populations. This is accomplished by developing and disseminating research-based curricula and state-of-the-art faculty training programs. Curricula have been developed for primary care physicians, obstetricians, gynecologists, pediatricians, and social workers. Curricula for pharmacists and nurses are planned for the future.

The NIAAA also develops, disseminates, implements, and evaluates innovative educational programs regarding the science of alcohol for K-12 science education and public education programs. Courses and related materials to educate about scientific advances in the knowledge of alcoholism and related problems are developed for patients, families, the general public, primary and secondary school educators/students, college educators/students, and scientists.

Alcohol Screening. The Institute's screening programs have a number of important goals: to increase public and professional involvement in identifying individuals who would benefit most from alcohol prevention and treatment; to increase the visibility of alcohol problems and the importance of incorporating screening into routine practice in medical and other health professional settings in the U.S., and to heighten awareness of the consequences of at-risk drinking.

The centerpiece of our screening efforts is National Alcohol Screening Day. National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD) provides an opportunity for all Americans to receive basic information about alcohol consumption so that each can make an informed decision on whether to drink and if so, then how much. The theme is "Alcohol and Your Health: Where do you draw the line?" Screening is performed annually during the month of April in thousands of public, college, primary care, clinic, and government settings across the U. S. Persons found to be drinking at at-risk levels receive a brief intervention and those screening positive for a possible diagnosis of abuse or dependence are referred for further evaluation.

There are special populations who will benefit more from the screenings and targeted health messages such as the elderly, women of childbearing age, individuals with a family history of alcohol problems, college students, and individuals with existing medical conditions that are exacerbated by alcohol use or those on certain medications.

International Programs. NIAAA sponsors several projects that team established U.S. investigators with their foreign counterparts to develop new alcohol research, medical education, and research training activities. These collaborative studies serve as the foundation for larger, more intensive studies in populations where the incidence or prevalence of disease is higher than in the U.S. and where other factors, such as well documented family histories and controls permit study designs that will produce more generalizable results.

The institute is actively involved with binational commissions in Russia and South Africa that have facilitated partnerships with U.S. investigators and their counterparts in these two countries. For example, the NIAAA's active role in the Health Working Group for South Africa has led to significant progress in the areas of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) research and efforts to develop research on prevention and treatment of alcoholism. The South African Government, recognizing that FAS is particularly prevalent in the Western Cape Province, is working with NIAAA on FAS research projects and prevention strategies.

The NIAAA, as a designated World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Research and Training on Alcohol Use Disorders, also supports scientific exchanges to increase the research capacity of scientists in several foreign countries, including Finland, Japan, Poland, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Italy, Hungary, and others.

Research Dissemination

NIAAA maintains an active communications program aimed at informing the general public, health care practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and others involved in managing alcohol-related programs about research findings with applicability to alcohol treatment and prevention efforts. Our scientific communications include vehicles such as:

  • Alcohol Research & Health, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal, available by both subscription and full text on the NIAAA’s web site.
  • Alcohol Alert, a publication designed to quickly disseminate research findings to health professionals.
  • FrontLines, a semi-annual newsletter reporting on current findings from alcohol-related health services research and other critical issues of interest to science, practitioner, policy-making, and general audiences.
  • Monographs on special topics or containing papers from NIAAA-sponsored workshops on critical research areas.
  • Public service announcements, videos, posters, brochures, pamphlets, fact sheets, Web pages, and other materials as well as coordinated public education campaigns to inform the public about alcohol misuse and related research topics.

Online Resources. Research findings and resources are also shared with the alcohol and general health care communities through the NIAAA Website, The Alcohol and Alcohol Problems Science Database, known as ETOH, appears online at

Containing more than 110,000 records from the 1960s to the present, ETOH is a comprehensive bibliographic database of literature on all aspects of alcohol research: psychology, psychiatry, physiology, biochemistry, epidemiology, sociology, neuroscience, treatment, prevention, education, safety, criminal justice, legislation, employment, labor and industry, and public policy. ETOH is updated monthly and includes a thesaurus for searching and retrieving information.

A second database, "Quick Facts," provides access to alcohol-related epidemiologic data and facilitates communication among NIAAA staff and others interested in NIAAA programs and data.

Clinical trials related to alcohol research can be found via the online database, For each clinical trial, the following information is provided: location of clinical trials, their design and purpose, criteria for participation, and the treatment under study.

Currently, NIAAA’s Website features publications (many available as full text documents), news releases, grant and contract information, conferences and workshops, databases, frequently asked questions for the public, and other alcohol-related resources.

NIAAA Appropriations – Grants and Direct Operations

Fiscal year
Total grants1
Direct operations
(Amounts in thousands of dollars)

1 Direct operating includes intramural research; research management and support, and contracts..
2 Total NIAAA is NIH comparable.

This page was last reviewed on June 22, 2005 .

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