Institutes and Research Divisions
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse
and Alcoholism


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is responsible for research on the causes, consequences, treatment, and prevention of alcohol-related problems. NIAAA conducts and supports biomedical and behavioral research into the effects of alcohol on the human mind and body, prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse and alcoholism, and epidemiology of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems. In carrying out these responsibilities, the institute:


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, which established 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) transferred 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).

Director's of NIAAA

NameDate of Birth Dates of Office
Morris E. ChafitzApr. 20, 1924 1972Sept. 1, 1975
Ernest P. NobleApr. 2, 1929February 1976April 1978
Loran Archer (Actg)Nov. 26, 1929April 1978
November 1981
January 1986
April 1979
July 1982
October 1986
John R. DeLucaJan. 23, 1944May 1979October 1981
William E. Mayer (Actg)Sept. 24, 1923 August 1982July 1983
Robert G. NivenJan. 23, 1944August 1983December 1985
Enoch GordisFeb. 21, 1931November 1986.........................


Biographical Sketch of NIAAA Director

Enoch Gordis, M.D.

Born on February 21, 1931, in New York, N.Y., Dr. Gordis received his B.A. degree from Columbia University in 1950 and his M.D. degree from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1954. He trained in internal medicine at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. Following his residency, he spent 10 years at New York City’s Rockefeller University conducting research in the areas of lipid metabolism, toxicology of carbon tetrachloride, analytical biochemistry of drug stereoisomers, the metabolism of alcohol, and alcohol withdrawal.

Subsequently he founded the alcohol treatment program at the city hospital center at Elmhurst, N.Y., and was professor of clinical medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. He directed Elmhurst’s alcoholism program from 1971 until his appointment as NIAAA director in November 1986.

Dr. Gordis is a member of numerous organizations including the Institute of Medicine of NAS, the American Physiological Society, the American Federation for Clinical Research, Sigma Xi, the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, fellow of the American College of Physicians, and the Research Society on Alcoholism.


Programs and Activities

NIAAA supports research 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 an active intramural research program on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. Additionally, NIAAA is involved in a number of important collaborations within NIH and the international community. Findings from these several research areas are made available and accessible through a wide 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, patient-treatment matching studies, the neurosciences, alcohol and pregnancy research, the development of pharmacological interventions to treat alcohol abuse and alcoholism and its effects, and alcohol-related public health policies. Selected extramural program highlights are provided below.

Genetics. The legacy of alcoholism in families has prompted researchers to explore the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to heightened vulnerability to alcoholism and the genetic factors that appear to protect certain individuals from developing the disease. Among its research activities in genetics, NIAAA has a cooperative agreement for a multidisciplinary, collaborative study involving seven research institutions across the U.S. to determine how vulnerability to alcoholism is transmitted through families. This study, initiated in the fall of 1989, involves the detailed diagnostic evaluation and genetic typing of 2,400 individuals comprising several hundred families in which alcoholism may be inherited. The long-term objective of this research is to pinpoint genes that influence the susceptibility to alcoholism.

Alcohol and Pregnancy. NIAAA supports research to determine why and how alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in offspring afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related defects. Laboratory studies have identified several mechanisms that likely contribute to varying degrees to these defects. These studies may lead to possible preventive therapies

The effects of low-level or moderate drinking on prenatal development are of considerable concern because this pattern of drinking is so prevalent. In order to target prevention and intervention efforts to women at high risk, epidemiological and basic research to identify risk factors for adverse pregnancy outcome, such as genetic predisposition, are supported.

A related topic of interest is the development of biomarkers to confirm exposure of the fetus to alcohol. Several longitudinal studies are determining the nature of neuro-developomental deficits in children at different ages, which may suggest better remediation strategies. Two recently funded neuroimaging studies correlating changes in brain structure with specific neurobehavioral tests may lead to better diagnosis of partial manifestations of fetal alcohol syndrome.

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.

Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, has been approved by FDA as a safe and effective adjunct to psychosocial treatment foralcoholism.

Since alcohol-seeking behavior is complex and involves several neurotransmitter systems and neurohormones, NIAAA is exploring a range of additional medications to modify drinking behavior. Serotonin uptake inhibitors have shown considerable promise in animal models and may assist alcoholics with collateral depression. Related topics of interest are medication compliance, differential effect of pharmacotherapies on subtypes of alcoholics, and effects of medications when combined with psychosocial interventions.

Neurosciences. NIAAA-funded research is exploring the numerous targets in the brain on which alcohol acts. New methodologies are now becoming available to measure how alcohol acts on neural circuits in the brain to alter behavior. Noninvasive, functional imaging technologies are being used in animal and human studies to identify the neural circuits involved int the reinforcing properties of alcohol leading to and maintaining addictive alcohol-seeking behaviors. In addition, important new assessments are being made of alcohol-linked behaviors in freely behaving animals performing behavioral tasks combined simultaneously with changes in neurotrasmitters and neuro-modulators in specific brain circuits using in vivo techniques such as microdialysis, voltammetry, or electrophysiological recordings in multiple areas of the brain. Such studies will lead to the development of therapeutic agents to treat alcohol abuse and alcoholism.


NIAAA Appropriations -- Grants and Direct Operations

[Amounts in thousands of dollars]

Total Grants1
Direct Operations
197929,396 10,16739,563
198019,124 12,96832,092
198118,713 11,67830,391
1982 9,319 14,70534,024
198324,505 18,53343,038
198432,597 22,23054,827
198539,518 22,15961,677
198645,876 20,51966,395
198758,758 24,59983,357
198868,044 24,72592,769
198991,455 28,596120,051
1990114,486 34,708149,194
1991121,195 36,946158,141
1992131,975 39,506171,481
1993134,781 41,347176,128
1994143,246 41,454184,700
1Direct operations includes intramural research, research management and support, and contracts.
2Total NIAAA is NIH comparable.


Treatment. NIAAA continues to emphasize research to improve patient-treatment matching, i.e., assignment of patients to facilities, interventions, and treatment providers according to the patients’ psychological and behavioral characteristics and the nature of their alcohol dependence. One of the institute’s primary initiatives is a cooperative grant focused on matching studies at multiple sites using large study populations. This large scale permits simultaneous testing of various treatment strategies, exploration of interactions between strategies, and standardization of techniques among the participating centers. In turn, these features will allow for more sophisticated analyses than were previously possible, and will enhance the generaliz-ability of findings to applied treatment settings.

Community Prevention Trials. NIAAA supports an integrated group of community-based controlled prevention trials. The problems to be prevented include alcohol-related trauma, underage drinking, and drinking and driving. All the trials test the impact of environmental interventions (e.g., enhanced law enforcement and community coalitions). One project tests a school- and parent-based intervention, while others test media advocacy strategies or traditional mass media. Experimental and quasi-experimental designs are used. Two studies evaluate the effectiveness of naturally occurring interventions using the methodologies of natural experiments. Results to date indicate that community strategies that focus on schools, parents, and the community. Also, enduced law enforcement, media and educational campaigns, and public/private collaboration can significantly reduce drinking and driving, related driving risks, and traffic injuries and death.

National Alcohol Research Centers Program. NIAAA administers 14 diverse Alcohol Research Centers nationwide through the institute's National Alcohol Research Center Grants Program. This program is interrelated with and complementary to all 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 years) support for interdisciplinary research that focuses on particular aspects of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, or other alcohol-related problems. This program encourages outstanding scientists from many disciplines to provide a full range of expertise, approaches, and advanced technologies for developing knowledge in these areas.

A primary goal of any NIAAA-funded center is to become, through excellence in science research, a significant regional or national research resource. In addition, each center affords research training opportunities for persons from various disciplines and professions. Current areas of alcohol center focus are 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; alcohol and aging; genetic approaches to the neuropharmacology of alcohol; biobehavioral manifestations of adolescent alcohol abuse; genetics of neuroadaptation to ethanol; clinical and medical epidemiology; and etiology and pharmacological treatment of alcoholism.


Intramural Research

The overall goal of the NIAAA Intramural Research Program 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.

Studies on the effects of ethanol on cell membrane receptors, ion channels, and expression of genes coding for these important proteins are yielding intriguing insights into basic mechanisms of ethanol’s action. Combined with studies on region specific effects of ethanol on the release of neurotransmitters, these investigations will elucidate how ethanol produces reward, dependence, tolerance, and brain damage. Behavioral studies on animals, using mainly mice and monkeys, combined with molecular genetics and behavioral manipulations during development, examine important protective and causal factors for alcohol abuse and dependence.

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 inpatient ward and a large outpatient program are located in the NIH Clinical Center.

Genetics of Alcoholism. This research focuses on investigating the genetic determinants of the risk for alcoholism. Studies on impulsive and violent alcoholics show that there is a clinical subgroup of alcoholics with polydrug abuse and antisocial personality features who also display deficits in serotonin function. The goal of this research is to understand how natural variants of genes involved in serotonergic neurotransmission affect human behavior. Two approaches are used: molecular cloning and expression studies of genes involved in serotonin function, and intensive behavioral and neuropsychological studies of human families and animal strains with natural variants of serotonin genes.

In conducting this research NIAAA scientists examine a variety of populations to determine how genetics and environment interact in the development of alcoholism and concomitant psychopathologies including drug abuse, antisocial personality, anxiety, and mood disorders. Techniques include family transmission studies and genetic linkage analyses using selected candidate genes and a large number of polymorphic markers.

To identify genes for complex, heterogeneous psychiatric diseases, it is helpful to define genetic characteristics which could correlate more precisely with genotypes. Neurophysiologic differences in alcoholism may serve this purpose these differences include a diminished amplitude of a specific electrophysiological trait--called the P300 evoked potential--and the low voltage alpha component of the electroencephalogram. Approaches include family transmission studies and a genetic linkage study to map the genes determining the variants. Psychiatric interviews are conducted to correlate neurophysiological phenotype with clinical phenotype and behavior.

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.


International Activities

The Office of Collaborative Research Activities initiates and fosters collaborative activities with other NIH institutes, government agencies, and other organizations interested in alcohol-related problems. These activities include cosponsorship of workshops and research projects as well as efforts to disseminate research findings. The office administers and manages an international program to further the institute’s domestic goals.

Mutually beneficial collaborative research efforts have been developed with other countries and international organizations. Research information is exchanged on a regular basis with over 30 countries. This office also coordinates the institute’s science education initiative. Special projects in collaboration with educators of K-12 students are in progress.

Among its many recent collaborative national and international activities, NIAAA has cosponsored projects with other institutes and organizations studying birth defects, liver disease, AIDS, women’s health, minority health, aging, and health services research. NIAAA has supported sicentific eschanges to increase the research capability of scientists in several foreign countries or to support collaborative research with grantees. The institute has responded to requests for joint research efforts, developed productive cooperative projects, or supported grantees to work with scientists in Finland, Poland, Mexico, Russia, the Czech Republic, Canada, Spain, and many other countries.


Research Dissemination

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

Research findings are also shared with the alcohol and general health care communities through two online database services supported by the institute. The first of these, the “Quick Facts” electronic bulletin board, provides access to alcohol-related epidem-iologic data and facilitates communication among NIAAA staff and others interested in NIAAA programs and data.

Scientists, clinicians, and others interested in alcohol-related research also have direct access to NIAAA’s comprehensive “Alcohol and Alcohol Problems Science Database” through Ovid Technologies, Inc.--a commercial vendor and through the NIAAA's home page on the World Wide Web ( The database title is ETOH, named after EtOH, one of the chemical designations for ethyl alcohol. ETOH covers literature from the late 1960’s to the present, contains over 93,000 bibliographic records, and covers all aspects of alcohol research: psychology, psychiatry, physiology, biochemistry, epidemiology, sociology, neuroscience, treatment, prevention, education, accidents and safety, criminal justice, legislation, employment, labor and industry, and public policy. The database also contains entries on books, monographs, government reports, dissertations, and conference papers.

Currently, NIAAA’s WWW features publications (many available as full text documents), news releases, grant and contract information, and other alcohol-related resources.