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The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Advancing research on alcohol abuse and dependence
May / June 2016 | Volume 15, Issue 3
Photo by David Snyder for Fogarty/NIH
NIAAA funds research and fosters
collaborations to advance understanding
of alcohol's effects and to develop new
prevention and treatment strategies.
Alcoholic beverages are consumed in a variety of forms with wide-ranging cultural and local traditions for its use. However, alcohol abuse is a global problem that kills 3.3 million people a year, according to the WHO. To advance understanding of alcohol's effects and to develop new prevention and treatment strategies, NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) funds research and fosters collaborations among U.S. and international investigators.
Dependence and misuse have health, social and economic consequences for drinkers, their families, and society at large. A psychoactive substance, alcohol impacts every organ in the body and is linked to cancer, tuberculosis, injuries and 200 other conditions. Violence, crime, unemployment and absenteeism are other outcomes of excessive consumption. Globally, harmful use of alcohol is the top risk factor for death and disability among people aged 15-49.
"As the world's leading research institute on the causes, consequences, treatment and prevention of both alcohol use disorders and the wide-ranging health effects of alcohol abuse, NIAAA partners with scientists in both the developing and the developed world to advance our understanding of how alcohol acts on the brain and body to create pathophysiology," says NIAAA Director Dr. George F. Koob. "By joining forces we are able to move the science forward that will lead to important improvements in global public health."
NIAAA, which was established in 1970, uses its nearly $470 million annual budget to examine alcohol's effects across the lifespan and develop and test effective approaches to the prevention and treatment of these health effects. Neurobiology, genetics, pharmacology, epidemiology and other disciplines are applied to a range of issues - treatment of alcohol use disorders, alcohol-related liver disease, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), and alcohol's complex relationship with HIV/AIDS.
The Institute's Global Alcohol Research Program encourages international scientific exchange. To combat FASD, NIAAA supports research collaborations in several countries, including a wine-producing region in South Africa that has an unusually high prevalence of the condition.
The Institute also supports research that examines the relationship between alcohol and HIV/AIDS. Science has shown that alcohol use and abuse can contribute to the spread of the disease and affect treatment for infected patients. Studies to better understand the alcohol-HIV relationship are underway in sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV prevalence is high, and in Russia, where heavy drinking also occurs.
NIAAA works with scientists and health experts in other high-income countries. For example, a strong collaborative relationship has been developed with NIH's French counterpart, INSERM. The research partnerships between U.S. and French investigators span several areas of NIAAA's portfolio and French scientists contribute to some of their most productive consortia, such as the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism. Additionally, NIAAA supports a "brain bank" at the University of Sydney, Australia that collects and distributes autopsied human tissue to facilitate neurological studies conducted throughout the world. This resource takes advantage of a unique population of people who abuse alcohol but no other substances.
In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), NIAAA works with local experts to identify some of the specific problems poorer individuals experience as a result of alcohol abuse and addiction. Lack of adequate health care, treatment programs, support networks, and safe roads and vehicles all increase the risk of illness and deaths related to unsafe levels of consumption. Individuals in LMICs also drink more home brew that can be inexpensive, associated with heavy drinking and contain unsafe and even lethal ingredients.
NIAAA helps build capacity in LMICs as a longtime partner on Fogarty training projects, and by sharing information and building collaborative partnerships through support of scientists' travel to conferences and meetings, and dissemination of research via its peer-reviewed journal, Alcohol Research: Current Reviews.
Because alcohol consumption generally increases with wealth, the health and social burden in developing economies is expected to grow, as noted in the WHO's most recent status report on alcohol and health, increasing the need for collaborative research on this global health challenge.
- About the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) at NIH.
- Global status report on alcohol and health 2014
World Health Organization, May 2014
- Resources and publications related to the article Studying alcohol and HIV: a dangerous combination:
- NIAAA HIV/AIDS and Alcohol Research Program
- Learn more about the 2016 International AIDS Conference
- Resources and publications related to the article NIAAA advances fetal alcohol exposure research:
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, NIAAA Research Initiatives
- Fetal Alcohol Exposure, NIAAA fact sheet
- NIAAA Advances Research on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
NIAAA Spectrum, September 2011
- May PA, et al. The continuum of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in four rural communities in South Africa: Prevalence and characteristics, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2016, available online 31 December 2015
- de Vries MM et al. Indicated prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in South Africa: effectiveness of case management, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2016
- May PA, et al. Approaching the Prevalence of the Full Spectrum of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in a South African Population-Based Study, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2013
- Adnams CM, et al. Language and literacy outcomes from a pilot intervention study for children with FASD in South Africa, Alcohol, September, 2007
- Jonsson, E, et al. International charter on prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, The Lancet, March 2014
- Coles, CD et al. Dose and Timing of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Maternal Nutritional Supplements: Developmental Effects on 6-Month-Old Infants, Maternal and Child Health Journal, 2015
- Jacobson, SW, et al. Impaired eyeblink conditioning in children with fetal alcohol syndrome, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2008
- Meintjes, EM, et al. An fMRI study of number processing in children with fetal alcohol syndrome, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2010
- Fan, J, et al. White matter integrity of the cerebellar peduncles as a mediator of effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on eyeblink conditioning, Human Brain Mapping, 2015
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