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October 2020

NIAAA celebrates 50 years of advancing alcohol research


This December marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). As I look back over the past five decades, I am proud of our tremendous accomplishments and the progress we have made in alcohol research.

Created in 1970, NIAAA is the world’s largest funder of alcohol research—with the overarching goal of improving the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and other alcohol-related problems across the lifespan. With our broad research portfolio, NIAAA’s work focuses on health topics that touch the lives of almost every family and community across America.

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NIAAA at 50 image collage

Today, thanks to our legacy of supporting innovative research, we know more about how alcohol affects the brain and body across the lifespan than ever before, and we have evidence-based interventions to prevent and treat alcohol misuse. For youth, these interventions have contributed to a steady decrease in underage drinking over the past 2 decades. We have also made great strides in understanding the deleterious effects of prenatal alcohol exposure and in elucidating the biological underpinnings of AUD and alcohol-associated liver diseases, efforts that are paving the way for improved diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.

Just as expanding our knowledge base is important, so is translating the evidence into valuable resources for the public such as Rethinking Drinking and the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator, which are resources to help a person evaluate their drinking habits and find treatment, respectively. Other resources include CollegeAIM, which helps colleges and universities identify effective evidence-based alcohol interventions and our youth alcohol screening guide, designed to assist health professionals in efficiently conducting alcohol screening for adolescents aged 9-18. Adding to these valuable resources, new evidence-based materials are on the way and will be available soon.

In addition to our long-standing priorities, NIAAA is also nimble and can quickly mobilize to pursue emerging avenues of research. For example, the novel coronavirus pandemic has yielded many urgent research questions. NIAAA is funding research related to alcohol and the pandemic and contributing to COVID-19 activities across the National Institutes of Health, such as those focused on understanding the impact of the pandemic on behavioral health and reducing health disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. Information about NIAAA’s response to the pandemic and resources for the public, healthcare providers, and researchers is available on our website.

Of great importance is the need for diversity and inclusion, both in terms of the research that we support and the individuals who conduct the studies and support the overall research enterprise. Our commitment to increasing diversity in the scientific workforce encompasses our intramural and extramural research programs and spans the pipeline from early education to established scientists. We have renewed our commitment to addressing the health needs of underserved populations so that all members of society may benefit from the work that we fund.

To commemorate five decades of biomedical discovery in the alcohol and health field, NIAAA will host a virtual scientific symposium, “Alcohol Across the Lifespan: 50 Years of Evidence-Based Diagnosis, Prevention, and Treatment Research” on November 30 and December 1. The symposium will feature presentations by top research experts on the state-of-the-science and opportunities to continue advancing the field. I invite you to join us for this exciting program, which will be held via NIH Videocast.

To learn more about NIAAA’s history and plans for the symposium, please visit the 50th Anniversary page of the NIAAA website.

We have gained valuable knowledge during our first five decades—knowledge that provides a strong foundation upon which to build. I am also mindful that we still have a lot more work to do. I look forward to continued scientific advances in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol-related problems.

Best wishes,

George F. Koob, Ph.D.

Need Help for an Alcohol Problem?

If you’re having an emergency, call 911. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call 911, go to the nearest emergency room or call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to help you through this difficult time.

The NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator can help you recognize and find high quality treatment for alcohol use disorder. If you drink excessively, seek medical help to plan a safe recovery as sudden abstinence can be life threatening. NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking can help you assess your drinking habits and provides information to help you cut back or stop drinking.

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