National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Mission

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is the lead Federal agency for research on alcohol and health and the largest funder of alcohol research in the world. NIAAA’s mission is to generate and disseminate fundamental knowledge about the effects of alcohol on health and well- being, and apply that knowledge to improve the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol- related problems, including alcohol use disorder (AUD), across the lifespan.

NIAAA provides leadership in the national effort to reduce alcohol-related problems by:

  • Conducting and supporting alcohol-related research in a wide range of scientific areas including genetics, neuroscience, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment.
  • Coordinating and collaborating with other research institutes and Federal Programs on alcohol-related issues.
  • Collaborating with international, national, state, and local institutions, organizations, agencies, and programs engaged in alcohol-related work.
  • Translating and disseminating research findings to health care providers, researchers, policymakers, and the public. 

Important Events in NIAAA History

1970—The Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act was passed, establishing NIAAA as part of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Senator Harold E. Hughes of Iowa played a pivotal role in sponsoring the legislation, which recognized alcohol abuse and alcoholism as major public health problems.

1971—The First Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health was issued in December, part of a series of triennial reports established to chart the progress made by alcohol research toward understanding, preventing, and treating alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

1974—NIAAA became an independent Institute within the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA), which also housed NIMH and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

1977—NIAAA organized the first national research workshop on fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which reviewed the state of the research on FAS.

1980—NIAAA science and staff were instrumental to the development of the Report to the President and the Congress on Health Hazards Associated with Alcohol and Methods to Inform the General Public of these Hazards; this report influenced the following year’s publication of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Alcohol and Pregnancy of 1981 (updated in 2005).

1989—NIAAA launched the Collaborative Studies on Genetics of Alcoholism with the goal of identifying the specific genes underlying vulnerability to alcoholism as well as collecting clinical, neuropsychological, electrophysiological, and biochemical data, and establishing a repository of immortalized cell lines.

1991—NIAAA began the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, designed to study drinking practices, behaviors, and related problems in the general public.

1995—NIAAA celebrated its 25th anniversary.

1996—NIAAA established the Mark Keller Honorary Lecture Series. The series pays tribute to Mark Keller, a pioneer in the field of alcohol research, and features a lecture each year by an outstanding alcohol researcher who has made significant and long-term contributions to our understanding of alcohol's effects on the body and mind. 

1999—NIAAA organized the first National Alcohol Screening Day, created to provide public education, screening, and referral for treatment when indicated. The program was held at 1,717 sites across the United States, including 499 college sites.

NIAAA co-sponsored the launch of The Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, a unique coalition of state governors' spouses, federal agencies, and public and private organizations that targets prevention of drinking in young people ages 9–15.

2001—NIAAA launched the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a representative sample of the U.S. population with data on alcohol and drug use; alcohol and drug abuse and dependence; and associated psychiatric and other co-occurring disorders.

2002—NIAAA published A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges, which was developed by the Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a comprehensive review of research on college drinking and the effectiveness of prevention programs.

2004—NIAAA established the Underage Drinking Research Initiative by convening a steering committee of experts in adolescent development, child health, brain imaging, genetics, neuroscience, prevention research, and other research fields, with the goal of working towards a more complete and integrated scientific understanding of the environmental, biobehavioral, and genetic factors that promote initiation, maintenance, and acceleration of alcohol use among youth, framed within the context of human development.

FDA approved acamprosate, a drug that eases negative effects related to alcohol withdrawal. In 1994, FDA approved naltrexone, a drug that can reduce alcohol craving. In 2006, FDA approved an injectable long-lasting version of naltrexone. Prior to approval of these drugs, the only medication physicians could offer to patients who were battling alcohol abuse and dependence was disulfiram, which had been approved for the treatment of alcoholism in 1949. Disulfiram increases the concentration of acetaldehyde in the body, which can cause unpleasant symptoms; anticipation of these effects can help some people avoid drinking.

2005—NIAAA published Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much: A Clinician's Guide to help primary care and mental health clinicians incorporate alcohol screening and intervention into their practices. The 2005 edition introduced a simple one-question screening tool that streamlined recommendations published in earlier NIAAA guides.

The Surgeon General released the Surgeon General's Advisory on Alcohol Use in Pregnancy, updated from the original advisory released in 1981. As with the 1981 report, NIAAA science contributed significantly to the development of this document, and NIAAA staff were instrumental in its crafting.

2007—NIAAA partnered with NIDA, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and HBO to produce Addiction, an Emmy-award winning documentary exploring alcohol and drug addiction, treatment, and recovery, and featuring interviews with medical researchers working to better understand and treat addictive disorders.

2008—The Acting Surgeon General of the United States issued The Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. NIAAA’s Underage Drinking Research Initiative provided much of the scientific foundation for that document.

NIAAA published a special supplemental issue of the journal Pediatrics, presenting a developmental framework for understanding and addressing underage drinking as a guide to future research, prevention, and treatment efforts. The research reflected in these articles contributed to the development of The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking.

2009 – NIAAA established the Jack Mendelson, M.D., Honorary Lecture Series. The series pays tribute to Dr. Mendelson’s contributions to the field of clinical alcohol research, and features a lecture each year by an outstanding alcohol researcher whose clinical research has made significant and long-term contributions to our understanding of susceptibility to alcohol use disorder (AUD), alcohol's effects on the brain and other organs, and the prevention and treatment of AUD.

2010—NIAAA celebrated the 40th anniversary of its founding on December 31, 1970. In addition to placing vibrant anniversary banners across the NIH campus, NIAAA published a special double issue of its peer-reviewed journal, Alcohol Research & Health. This anniversary issue describes the Institute’s public health impact and multidisciplinary contributions to alcohol research. Additionally, on October 4, 2010, the Institute hosted a special symposium recognizing the 40th anniversary. At this symposium, leaders in the field discussed the ways in which alcohol research has evolved over the past 40 years, as well as NIAAA's role in this progress.

2011—NIAAA released Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention for Youth: A Practitioner's Guide, Developed in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics, clinical researchers, and health practitioners, the guide introduced a two-question screening tool and an innovative youth alcohol risk estimator to help clinicians overcome time constraints and other common barriers to youth alcohol screening.

2012—NIH announced the Trans-NIH Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction Functional Integration to enhance the NIH Institute and Center (IC) collaborations around this important scientific and public health topic. The Functional Integration is a collaborative framework that draws on the collaboration among the NIH ICs on substance use, abuse, and addiction-related research. NIAAA and NIDA have made significant progress toward integrating their intramural research programs in substance use, abuse, and addiction, including the appointment of a single Clinical Director for both Institutes and the establishment of a joint genetics intramural research program and a common optogenetics lab. By pooling resources and expertise, the Functional Integration will identify cross-cutting areas of research and confront challenges faced by multiple Institutes and Centers.

2013 — NIAAA helped establish and participated in the NIH partnership, Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (CRAN). CRAN’s mission is to provide a strong collaborative framework to enable NIAAA, NIDA, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to integrate resources and expertise to advance substance use, abuse, and addiction research and public health outcomes. NIAAA helped launch a Web site, https://www.addictionresearch.nih.gov, which makes funding opportunities and research resources readily available to the public.

In addition, NIAAA developed and launched an online course for health care professionals to learn more about screening youth for alcohol problems. Doctors, nurses, psychologists, and others can take the online training to earn continuing medical education credits. The course, produced jointly with Medscape, shows providers how to conduct fast, evidence-based alcohol screening and brief intervention for patients ages 9–18. Since its launch in August, more than 5,000 health care professionals have earned credit for the course. The course can be accessed at: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-issues-online-course-screening-youth-alcohol-problems.

2015—NIAAA launched the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix (CollegeAIM), a new resource to help schools address harmful and underage student drinking.

2016—NIAAA science and staff were instrumental to the development of Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.  HBO Documentary Films premiered Risky Drinking, which follows the stories of four people whose drinking dramatically affects their relationships and their lives. This 85-minute film features commentary by experts including NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D., and NIAAA Medical Project Officer Deidra Roach, M.D.

2017—NIAAA issues the NIAAA Strategic Plan, 2017-2021 and releases the Treatment Navigator online tool.

Legislative Chronology

December 31, 1970—NIAAA was established under authority of the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act of 1970 (Public Law 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—P.L. 93-282 was passed, establishing NIAAA, NIMH, and NIDA as coequal institutes within the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA).

July 26, 1976—NIAAA's research authority was expanded 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—The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-35) was passed, 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 strengthening NIAAA's research mission.

October 27, 1986—A new Office for Substance Abuse Prevention in ADAMHA was created through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-570), which 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 the ADAMHA Reorganization Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-321).

December 20, 2006—The Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act (P.L. 109-422) was passed, requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to formally establish and enhance the efforts of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking that began operating in 2004.

December 13, 2016—The 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255) was passed, requiring the Directors of NIAAA, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to serve as ex officio members of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Advisory Councils.   It also called for increased collaboration between SAMHSA and NIAAA, NIDA, and the States to promote the study of substance abuse prevention and the dissemination and implementation of research findings that will improve the delivery and effectiveness of substance abuse prevention activities. Finally, it reauthorized the Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act from 2018 through 2022.

Biographical Sketch of NIAAA Director George Koob, Ph.D.

George F. Koob, Ph.D., is an internationally-recognized expert on alcohol and stress, and the neurobiology of alcohol and drug addiction. He is the Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), where he provides leadership in the national effort to reduce the public health burden associated with alcohol misuse. As NIAAA Director, Dr. Koob oversees a broad portfolio of alcohol research ranging from basic science to epidemiology, diagnostics, prevention, and treatment.

Dr. Koob earned his doctorate in Behavioral Physiology from Johns Hopkins University in 1972. Prior to taking the helm at NIAAA, he served as Professor and Chair of the Scripps’ Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders and Director of the Alcohol Research Center at the Scripps Research Institute. Early in his career, Dr. Koob conducted research in the Department of Neurophysiology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and in the Arthur Vining Davis Center for Behavioral Neurobiology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Experimental Psychology and the MRC Neuropharmacology Unit at the University of Cambridge.

Dr. Koob began his career investigating the neurobiology of emotion, particularly how the brain processes reward and stress. He subsequently applied basic research on emotions, including on the anatomical and neurochemical underpinnings of emotional function, to alcohol and drug addiction, significantly broadening knowledge of the adaptations within reward and stress neurocircuits that lead to addiction. This work has advanced our understanding of the physiological effects of alcohol and other substance use and why some people transition from use to misuse to addiction, while others do not. Dr. Koob has authored more than 650 peer-reviewed scientific papers and is a co-author of The Neurobiology of Addiction, a comprehensive textbook reviewing the most critical neurobiology of addiction research conducted over the past 50 years.

Dr. Koob is the recipient of many prestigious honors and awards recognizing his contributions to research, mentorship, and international scientific collaboration. These include: the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) Seixas Award for extraordinary service in advancing alcohol research; the RSA Distinguished Investigator Award; the RSA Marlatt Mentorship Award; the Daniel Efron Award for excellence in basic research and the Axelrod Mentorship Award, both from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology; the NIAAA Mark Keller Award for his lifetime contributions to our understanding of the neurobiology of alcohol use disorder; and an international prize in the field of neuronal plasticity awarded by La Fondation Ipsen. He was recently honored by the government of France with the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor) for developing scientific collaborations between France and the United States.

NIAAA Directors

Name In Office from To
Morris E. Chafitz 1972 September 1, 1975
Ernest P. Noble February 1976 April 1978
Loran Archer (Acting) April 1978
November 1981
January 1986
April 1979
July 1982
October 1986
John R. DeLuca May 1979 October 1981
William E. Mayer (Acting) August 1982 July 1983
Robert G. Niven August 1983 December 1985
Enoch Gordis November 1986 January 2002
Raynard Kington (Acting) January 2002 November 2002
Ting-Kai Li November 2002 October 2008
Kenneth R. Warren (Acting) November 2008 January 2014
George F. Koob January 27, 2014 Present

Programs

NIAAA is made up of six Divisions and four Offices. An organizational chart is available here.

  • Office of the Director, Director: Dr. George Koob
    The Office of the Director leads the Institute by setting research and programmatic priorities and coordinating cross-cutting initiatives. The Office includes:
  • Office of Extramural Activities, Director: Dr. Abraham Bautista
    The Office of Extramural Activities is responsible for extramural grant and contract review, the management of chartered initial review groups and special emphasis panels, and all grants management activities. OEA also manages the Committee Management Office—responsible for advisory council activities and nominations to advisory and review panels—and provides advice to the Institute's senior leadership on matters that concern FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act) and non-FACA meetings.
  • Office of Science Policy and Communications, Director: Dr. Bridget Williams-Simmons (Acting)Office of Science Policy and Communications, Director: Dr. Bridget Williams-Simmons (Acting) The Office of Science Policy and Communications is responsible for science policy, planning, evaluation and reporting functions for NIAAA; the preparation of briefing materials on alcohol research; responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. Additionally, the office coordinates all media relations, produces materials for scientific and lay audiences, and acts as the public face of the Institute.
  • Office of Resource Management, Director: Ms. Vicki Buckley
    The Office of Resource Management provides administrative management support to the Institute in the areas of financial management, grants and contracts management, administrative services, and personnel operations; (2) develops administrative management policies, procedures, guidelines, and operations; (3) maintains liaison with the management staff of the Office of the Director and implements within the Institute general management policies prescribed by NIH and higher authorities.
    NIAAA’s divisions manage all of the Institute’s intramural and extramural basic and clinical research.

Trans-Divisional Program Activity

Staff of the NIAAA intramural and extramural programs engages in cross-cutting program activities to address the inherently interdisciplinary nature of alcohol research. NIAAA's Trans-Divisional Research Emphasis and Resource Development teams, working groups, and committees focus on biomarkers; centers and training programs, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, gene-environment studies, HIV/AIDS; health disparities and minority research, informatics and computational/systems biology, international research, mechanisms of behavioral change, medications development, research resources and technology, and underage drinking.

Examples of cross-Institute activity include the following:

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Research

NIAAA is the lead Federal agency for research on how alcohol consumption during pregnancy results in adverse consequences for the fetus, the most serious of which is fetal alcohol syndrome. This developmental disorder is characterized by reduced growth, facial abnormalities, and neurological, cognitive, and behavioral impairment. NIAAA chairs the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, created in 1996 in response to an Institute of Medicine report. In 2003, NIAAA launched the Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, a cooperative agreement program to improve diagnosis and develop effective treatment approaches through highly integrated, multidisciplinary research projects at both domestic and international sites. Also in 2003, NIAAA and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development established the Prenatal Alcohol, SIDS, and Stillbirth (PASS) Research Network to determine the underlying causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and stillbirth and the role played by prenatal alcohol exposure.

International Programs

AUD is a significant global health problem, and NIAAA has an ongoing program of international collaborative research to facilitate improved knowledge and care in this area. Much of the international research cooperation is carried out under formal "letters of intent" that are signed by the NIH and/or NIAAA Director and the heads of public and university medical research centers in foreign countries. For example, NIAAA has an active program of scientific exchange with the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), and has signed letters of intent to foster research cooperation and scientific exchange with the National Institute on Alcoholism in Japan; the Peking University Institute of Mental Health and the Institute of Nutritional Sciences in Beijing, China; the National Health Research Institute in Taiwan; and the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alcohol Research Centers Program

NIAAA's Alcohol Research Centers Program provides long-term support for interdisciplinary research that focuses on particular aspects of AUD and alcohol-related problems. The program encourages outstanding scientists from many disciplines who can provide a full range of expertise, approaches, and advanced technologies to work on various aspects of AUD or other alcohol-related problems. The program is interrelated with and complementary to all other research support mechanisms and scientific activities that investigate the causes, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and consequences of AUD.

Trans-NIH Program Activity

NIAAA collaborates with other NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) to generate and support broad research initiatives (e.g., Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH, and the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research). In addition, NIAAA staff share their scientific expertise with other ICs to advance medical science in all areas of human health. More information about these initiatives can be found at NIH’s Trans-NIH Collaborations Web site. In addition, NIAAA and NIDA intramural scientists study addiction related issues together, at the inpatient unit and outpatient program located in the NIH Clinical Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Intra-HHS Program Activity

NIAAA staff and scientists work with other U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies (e.g., Centers for Disease Control, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) to support and disseminate scientific research that improves public health. More details about these collaborative activities are described at the Intra-Agency Collaborations Reporting System Web site.

Communications and Outreach Activities

The goal of the NIAAA Communications and Public Liaison Branch is to develop, manage, and evaluate strategically-planned activities that:

CPLB’s major audiences are the general public, patients/family members, health professionals, stakeholder organizations, and the news media. CPLB also complements and supports the work of NIAAA’s Divisions to communicate with the research community, and the NIAAA Science Policy Branch to reach other government agencies and congressional and legislative audiences.  Major activities include:

Our major Web sites include:  

  • Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research, Director: Dr. George Kunos
    The Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research seeks 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.
  • Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, Director: Dr. Ralph Hingson
    The Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research (DEPR) seeks to reduce alcohol-related mortality and morbidity and other alcohol-related problems and consequences through the integration and application of epidemiology and prevention science.
  • Division of Medications Development, Director: Dr. Raye Litten (Acting)
    The Division of Medications Development focuses on pharmacological treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and supports clinical research programs.
  • Division of Metabolism and Health Effects, Director: Dr. Kathy Jung
    The Division of Metabolism and Health Effects supports basic and clinical research studies to identify the molecular pathways through which alcohol causes organ and tissue damage, with the goal of identifying targets for drug discovery to prevent or treat alcohol-related disorders.
  • Division of Neuroscience and Behavior, Director: Dr. Antonio Noronha
    The Division of Neuroscience and Behavior promotes research on ways in which neuronal and behavioral systems are influenced by genetic, developmental, and environmental factors in conjunction with alcohol exposure to engender alcohol use disorder.
  • Division of Treatment and Recovery Research, Director: Dr. Robert Huebner (Acting)
    The Division of Treatment and Recovery Research supports research to better understand the natural history of excessive drinking and alcohol use disorder and factors associated with positive change.
    • Disseminate unbiased science and health information (resulting from our supported research) in an appropriate and efficient way to a range of audiences and stakeholders.
    • Position NIAAA (and its Director in particular) as an authoritative source of credible, science-based information about alcohol and health.
    • News Media Relations
    • Print Materials
    • Digital/Multimedia Products/Social Media
    • Exhibits/Special Events
    • Public Liaison Relations/Promotional Partnerships
    • Public Inquiries
    • NIAAA primary Web site (niaaa.nih.gov)
    • Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (addictionresearch.nih.gov/)
    • Rethinking Drinking (RethinkingDrinking.niaaa.nih.gov)
    • College Drinking Prevention (collegedrinkingprevention.gov)
    • The Cool Spot (TheCoolSpot.gov)
    • Alcohol Research: Current Reviews homepage (arcr.niaaa.nih.gov)

This page last reviewed on May 9, 2017