Academic journal article Alcohol Research

NIAAA: Advancing Alcohol Research for 40 Years

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

NIAAA: Advancing Alcohol Research for 40 Years

Article excerpt

In 1970, Congress passed and President Richard M. Nixon signed the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act of 1970. With the passage of that law, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) became the lead Federal agency to address the problems associated with alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Over time, NIAAA has continued to evolve. Today's research portfolio casts a net over a wide range of study--from epigenetics and neuro-imaging to health disparities and personalized medicine. NIAAA continues to spark innovative approaches to research problems, to foster cooperation and collaboration with other agencies and programs, and to advance our understanding of alcohol and its effects.

For example, NIAAA took the lead in supporting research to explore alcohol's effects on fetal development in the 1970s, when many scientists and physicians doubted the existence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). NIAAA held the first international research conference on FASD in 1977 and issued the first government health advisory on FASD on June 1, 1977. (For an in-depth look at NIAAA's role in FASD research, see the article on p. 118 of this issue.)

In addition to FASD research, NIAAA has supported important work on other medical consequences as well as the potential benefits of alcohol use. Such research has provided a better understanding of alcohol's role in diseases such as cancer, diabetes, dementia, and obesity; how alcohol affects the liver, brain, and immune system; and co-occurring alcohol and mental health disorders. (For more information on the medical consequences and potential benefits of alcohol, see the section beginning on p. 76 of this issue.)

Alcoholism has long been recognized to run in families. NIAAA's efforts to explore the genetic component of alcoholism led to the establishment of the Collaborative Studies on Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) to identify genes associated with vulnerability for alcohol dependence. This study has facilitated gene discovery, contributed to the development of medications for alcoholism, helped to identify those at risk for alcohol problems, and furthered research on the relationships between alcoholism and other disorders.

NIAAA's outreach has extended well beyond the research lab. NIAAA has collaborated with other Federal agencies and published numerous books, pamphlets, and brochures to bring awareness of alcohol-related issues to a variety of audiences. NIAAA's initiative on understanding and preventing underage drinking led to collaboration with the U.S. Surgeon General and the production of the Surgeon General's Report, A Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. This valuable report, published in 2007, turned the Nation's attention to the problem of underage drinking and highlighted promising strategies for prevention and intervention.

NIAAA's leadership in both the research and public health communities has ensured that what is learned through research is put into practice. For example, NIAAA supported the creation and evaluation of Project Northland, an ongoing community-wide alcohol use prevention research trial for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. This and other evidence-based prevention programs provide valuable tools for communities, schools, and college campuses working to prevent alcohol use and related problems. On a broader scale, NIAAA research has been influential in preventing alcohol problems through public policies, including laws to raise the minimum legal drinking age, mandate server intervention, and enforce drinking and driving laws. (For more information on NIAAA's role in prevention research, see the article on p. 18 of this issue.)

NIAAA also has developed strategies to help prevent alcohol use disorders from escalating to serious problems. To aid in the early recognition and diagnosis of potential alcohol use disorders, NIAAA developed a training guide, Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much: A Clinicians Guide, offering evidence-based approaches on how to identify and intervene with patients who may be problem drinkers. …

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