I feel compelled to address what we’ve seen and heard in the news regarding racism, police brutality, and injustice against African Americans in our country. I am outraged, horrified, and disillusioned—and I suspect most of you are, too. The effects are pervasive and touch all aspects of society. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a bright light on the adverse impact of health inequities on African-American communities. We cannot achieve our mission when health disparities exist in large segments of the population. As I speak regularly to the press about alcohol and COVID-19, I understand that we have a unique opportunity to address health disparities and inequities in America, but only if we open our eyes to the problems—and the possibilities.
If anything positive is to come from these past few horrific months, we need to consider them a wake-up call. I for one am going to question my preconceived notions about race and the experiences of African Americans, challenge my complacency, and look for ways to put my reinvigorated commitment into practice. I also resolve to contemplate any inherent and subconscious biases I may have about all individuals and groups. I hope you will do the same. At an Institute-wide level, we will be working to change the culture at NIAAA by improving communication and inclusivity, and ensuring that we act with respect, fairness, and compassion. To this end, we are also increasing our participation in health disparities research opportunities both within NIAAA and with our fellow NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices.
As I wrote in my blog about diversity and inclusion, how can we ensure that our community of researchers comes to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve? This is a crucial issue for research because the experiences and perspectives of our researchers help to guide not only the scientific methods they use and the solutions they seek, but also the fundamental questions they ask in the first place.
All types of research advance best when new ideas and viewpoints are brought to the table. We must extend a warm welcome to that table for the many gifted scientists who may not have always been embraced and appreciated. We will only be successful in advancing alcohol research if we utilize the talents and perspectives of our diverse scientific community and continue to recruit a diverse workforce.
There is much work to be done in achieving equality and we must think seriously about our role as researchers. As an Institute, NIAAA welcomes your input on this important issue. For one, we should be resolved to embrace all efforts to make our workplaces—offices, labs, and clinical environments—welcoming, inclusive, and fair to all. And, we can work to ensure that the research we conduct and support is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
As I start, I hope you will join me in honest self-reflection—reflection that leads to action.
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.