Table of Contents




Fiscal Year (FY) 2016

NIAAA closed FY 2016 on September 30, 2016; the final appropriation for NIAAA was $467.7 million. A summary of key funding actions within this appropriation follows: 

  • NIAAA awarded 634 research project grants, including 170 competing awards, which corresponds to a success rate of 18.8 percent. 
  • NIAAA funded 20 research centers for $30.6 million.
  • NIAAA funded 146 other research grants for $40.3 million, including career awards, one cooperative clinical agreement, and several resource and conference grant awards.
  • NIAAA supported 289 full-time training positions for $13.1 million.
  • NIAAA funding for research and development contracts was $39.4 million.
  • NIAAA support for Intramural research totaled $49.6 million. 

FY 2017

NIAAA is currently operating under H.R. 2028, a continuing resolution (CR), until April 28, 2017. Following the National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy under the CR, all grants will be funded at 90 percent. This is consistent with NIH practice during previous CRs. Upward adjustments to awarded levels will be considered after NIAAA’s FY 2017 appropriation is enacted. All legislative mandates that were in effect in FY 2016 remain in effect under the CR.  

FY 2018

Preliminary work on the budget for FY 2018 has begun, and the President’s budget request to Congress is forthcoming.  

Please note: Since NIAAA is currently operating under a CR, the budget mechanism table is not available at this time.



 H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act, was signed into law on December 13, 2016, with the goal of enhancing and accelerating the discovery, development, and delivery of new treatments and cures. The bill authorized $4.8 billion to NIH over 10 years for the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, regenerative medicine, and other research initiatives. The bill also directs $500 million over nine years to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and $1 billion to states over 2 years to help fight opioid misuse. H.R. 2028, the current CR, provides the NIH $872 million to support 21st Century Cures research initiatives in FY 2017. Congress will need to continue to provide funds for these initiatives in future appropriations bills. 

 H.R. 34 reauthorized the Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act (STOP) Act through 2022. Although primarily directed towards the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the STOP Act established the federal Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking (ICCPUD), of which NIAAA is a member. The Act includes a new subsection that directs SAMHSA to provide grants to pediatric health care providers for increasing youth alcohol screening and interventions. 



Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study
The ABCD study began recruitment in October 2016 and, as of December 30, 998 research participants have completed extensive functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and neuropsychological baseline assessments. 

The 2016 ABCD Study Annual Meeting was held this past November. Principal investigators from each ABCD study site and federal partner investigators gathered to discuss progress made to date, priority issues, and plans for the future. It also provided an opportunity for the investigators to see preliminary data from the first 200 participants. 

The December 8, 2016, CRAN blog featured a post about the role of science in guiding the development of marijuana policy.  This continues to be a timely topic, especially now that additional states voted in favor of either recreational and/or medicinal marijuana legalization during the November 8 general election. The blog and other CRAN news can be found on the CRAN website at

Joint T32 Review
A single special emphasis panel (SEP) has been established by NIAAA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to increase efficiency, broaden expertise, and facilitate functional integration of the Institutes’ relevant Institutional National Research Service Award (NRSA) research training programs.  The SEP will meet annually to review all T32 and T35 applications received by both Institutes, and will be managed by NIAAA and NIDA staff. The first review was managed by NIAAA; applications from this review are included in the January 2017 Council review.



 NIAAA’s Director, Dr. George F. Koob, made a number of important presentations during September 2016 through January 2017.  

  • He gave a special address at American Society of Addiction Medicine State of the Art Course in Addiction Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 7, 2016, titled “NIAAA Update: Priorities Going Forward 2016.” 
  • He spoke at the First World Congress on Prevention of Addiction in Children and Adolescents in Tijuana, Mexico, on November 8, 2016. His presentation was titled “A Neuroprevention Approach to Prevention of Alcohol Use Disorders.” 
  • Dr. Koob played an instrumental role in the launch of the first ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health at the Facing Addiction National Research Summit in Hollywood, California on November 17, 2016.  He co-presented an overview of the neurobiology of substance use, misuse, and addiction with Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA. 
  • He participated in the NIH Institute Directors Briefing at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology  in Hollywood, Florida, on December 4, 2016, at which he provided an NIH–NIAAA update. 
  • He gave the Eric Shullman Distinguished Public Lecture at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke on January 19, 2017. His lecture was titled “Neurocircuitry of Addiction: An Alcohol Perspective.” 
  • Dr. Koob was the featured speaker at a Congressional Meet-and-Greet hosted by the Friends of NIAAA on January 25, 2017.  Dr. Koob presented an overview of the Institute's research priorities and key accomplishments and met personally with Congressional staff.



New Staff

Tara Blackwood

Tara Blackwood joined the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research (DTRR) in January 2017 as Program Analyst. Prior to joining NIH, she worked as a Sales Assistant for a marketing company, producing data analysis reports, managing client accounts, and conducting weekly product presentations. Ms. Blackwood also has more than 5 years of customer service experience as a Client Relations Specialist for a medical coding company, where her responsibilities included answering customer inquiries, resolving account issues, and providing guidance to medical coders on the coding certification process. She has a bachelor’s degree in Business Merchandising from Marymount University.

Jaquai Kane Jaquai Kane joined the NIAAA Office of the Director as a Staff Assistant.  Ms. Kane came to NIAAA from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), where she served as a Program Support Assistant for the Intramural Research Program within the Laboratory of Neuroscience.              


Elizabeth PowellElizabeth Powell, Ph.D., joined the NIAAA Division of Neuroscience and Behavior (DNB) as a Program Director in May 2016. Prior to joining NIAAA, Dr. Powell was an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, where she conducted R01-funded research in neurodevelopmental disorders, cognitive flexibility, and tissue engineering.  She is a recipient of the Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Award from the March of Dimes, as well as two National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression Young Investigator Grants from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Dr. Powell has experience teaching medical students in human anatomy and embryology; teaching and training of undergraduate, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows in neuroscience; and mentoring junior faculty. Initially trained in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, she received her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Rutgers University and postdoctoral training in developmental neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Powell’s expertise encompasses areas of forebrain development, especially interneuron ontogeny, epilepsy, autism, animal models of cognition, stem cells, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine.

Kamilah Scott

Kamilah Scott joined the Division of Neuroscience and Behavior as a Program Specialist.  Prior to coming to NIAAA, she was an Extramural Support Assistant for the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. Previously, Ms. Scott worked at the National Cancer Institute (2000 - 2003) and the National Institute of Mental Health (2003 - 2005) as a Grants Technical Assistant; she twice received NIH Director’s awards for her achievements. From 2005 - 2016, Ms. Scott worked as a civilian for the U.S. Army as a personnel actions and administration specialist, on American soil and in the Middle East, having been stationed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Ms. Scott is the recipient of six awards for her service with the military. During this time, Ms. Scott earned her Bachelor of Science in business from the University of Phoenix, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in management at the University of Maryland.


Internal NIAAA Transitions                                           

Bonnie Ellis

Bonnie Ellis has been selected as Chief, Administrative Services Branch (ASB), NIAAA. Ms. Ellis had served as Section Chief for Research Management and Support, NIAAA, since November 2013, and as the Chair of the Extramural Administrative Management Council from 2015 to 2016. Prior to joining NIAAA, Ms. Ellis worked for the Center for Scientific Review, NIH, as a Senior Administrative Officer, as one of the first supervisors in the Division Extramural Support Activities Support program, and as a Supervisory Grants Review Assistant. She was a member of the Review Users Group for the IMPAC II peer review system, and has presented/instructed several videoconferencing sessions on the Electronic Research Administration project for NIH staff. In 2015, Ms. Ellis received her Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College.

Dr. Vivian FadenVivian B. Faden, Ph.D., retired in January after more than 42 years of federal service. During that time, she held a range of positions in a number of NIH Institutes. Most recently, she served as Director, Office of Science Policy and Communications (OSPC), and Associate Director for Behavioral Research, NIAAA. Although retired, she has returned to NIAAA as a Senior Science Advisor to the Director. During her tenure at NIAAA, she led NIAAA’s Underage Drinking Research Initiative, setting underage drinking research priorities, such as engaging the healthcare system, furthering knowledge on the effects of adolescent alcohol use on the developing brain, and promoting alcohol screening among youth. Dr. Faden has published in peer-reviewed journals in the areas of underage drinking, prenatal alcohol effects, and alcohol epidemiology. She is a licensed psychologist and has worked with children and adolescents in a variety of settings. 


Jennifer HobinJennifer A. Hobin, Ph.D. has been appointed Acting Chief, Science Policy Branch (SPB), NIAAA. Jennifer joined NIAAA as a Senior Health Science Policy Analyst in 2014. She came to NIAAA from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), where she served as the Director of Science Policy. Prior to AACR, she served as the Director of Science Policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, where she worked on a broad range of policy issues in support of the nation’s biomedical research enterprise. She holds a Ph.D. in Biopsychology from the University of Michigan


Erin Manor

Erin Manor has been selected as Deputy Executive Officer, NIAAA. Ms. Manor had served as the Chief, ASB, since September 2014 and served as the Section Chief for the Intramural Administrative Services since December 2012 In addition to her NIAAA experience, she also served as the Chair of the Intramural Administrative Management Council from 2015 to 2016, serves as a member of the NIH Continuity of Business Operations Committee, and has participated on two teams working on the NIH Administrative Strategic Plan goals for enhancing workforce planning and development and standardizing off-boarding processes. Prior to joining NIAAA, Ms. Manor worked as a Senior Administrative Officer within the NIMH Intramural Research Program and prior to NIMH, she worked in general administration as well as procurement at NIDA. In 2011, Ms. Manor received her Master in Public Administration degree from the University of Baltimore.

Bridget Williams-Simmons

Bridget Williams-Simmons, Ph.D., has been appointed Acting Director of OSPC, NIAAA. Dr. Williams-Simmons joined NIAAA in 2007 as a Health Scientist Administrator (HSA) in SPB, where she has worked on a wide range of science policy topics. During her tenure in SPB she served as NIAAA’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act coordinator as well as NIAAA lead on a number of other significant trans-NIH projects. Prior to her recent appointment, Dr. Williams-Simmons served as Chief of SPB.  She received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Tulane University




Rita B                                         
Rita Bauguess retired in December 2016 after 31 years of federal service. For the last 9 years of her career, she served as an Administrative Officer within ASB at NIAAA.  



Theola BlockerTheola Blocker has joined the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) as an Administrative Officer.  She previously served as a Management and Program Analyst in the NIAAA Office of Extramural Activities.




Dionne Godette

Dionne Godette, Ph.D., joined the Office of Disease Prevention (ODP) within the NIH Office of the Director as an HSA in January 2017. Dr. Godette will be working on ODP’s strategic priority to promote collaborative prevention research projects and facilitate coordination of such projects across NIH. During her six years at NIAAA, Dr. Godette served as an HSA in the areas of epidemiology and prevention of alcohol-related health disparities, interventions designed to improve health equity, and the epidemiology of underage drinking.



Shruti Murti

Shruti Murti joined the New York City Leadership Academy (NYCLA) in the fall of 2016 after seven years at NIAAA, including two years as an Administrative Assistant in the OD and OSPC and five years as a Research Assistant in DTRR where she provided support to HSAs in DTRR, assisting them with the preparation of portfolio overviews, helping track new developments in treatment research, and participating in special reviews of clinical research data. In her new role as Associate Director of Leadership Development at NYCLA, Ms. Murti manages projects that work directly with the leadership of NYC public schools at the district and state levels to design and implement capacity-building and leadership development programs.


Rachel Quade

Rachel Quade has joined NICHD as an Executive Assistant to the Director. Prior to leaving NIAAA, she worked with Dr. Hee-Yong Kim in the intramural Laboratory of Molecular Signaling and more recently she worked with Dr. Antonio Noronha as a Program Specialist in DNB



Diana Urbanas, Ph.D., retired from NIAAA in December. Dr. Urbanas joined NIAAA in 2000, and most recently, she served as a Program Official in DNB. Dr. Urbanas has relocated to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.





 At the third annual NIAAA awards ceremony, NIAAA staff were recognized with the following awards:

  • Daniel W. Hommer Memorial Award for Outstanding Fellow – Dr. Joshua Gowin
  • Benedict J. Latteri Memorial Award for Excellence in Scientific Publication – Drs. Lauren Dobbs and Julia Lemos
  • Advancing Diversity Award - Gregory Roa
  • Program Officer of the Year Award – Drs. Anita Bechtholt and John Matochik
  • Scientific Achievement Award – Dr. Andrew Holmes
  • Clinical Service Award – Dr. Nancy Diazgranados
  • Support Award - Aurelia Higginbotham
  • Operational Excellence Award - Karen Harrington
  • Mentoring Award – Dr. Vijay Ramchandani
  • NIAAA Ambassador Award - Jeff Thurston
  • Martin K. Trusty Excellence in Management Award – Dr. Antonio Noronha

Dr. Kendall Bryant was awarded the NIH Office of the Director (OD) Honor Award for his efforts in the FY 2014 NIH HIV/AIDS Research Portfolio Review and for identifying high-priority projects for funding with AIDS dollars. The award was presented at the 2016 NIH OD Honor Awards Ceremony by Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., Deputy Director, NIH, for “efforts [that] have brought exceptional recognition and distinction to both you and the NIH." 

Dr. Ralph Hingson received the Borkenstein Award at the Meeting of the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety in Gramado, Brazil, on October 19, 2016. He received the award in recognition of his “outstanding contributions to international cooperation in alcohol- and drug-related traffic safety programs.” Robert Borkenstein developed the first alcohol breath tester, and in 1974 conducted the first case/control study establishing increasing traffic crash risk curves for drivers at increasing blood alcohol content. 

Dr. Andrew Holmes received the 2016 Daniel H. Efron Award from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology last December at the group’s annual meeting. This highly prestigious award recognizes Dr. Holmes for his outstanding basic research contributions to neuropsychopharmacology.


Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) Issued by NIAAA

Public Policy Effects on Alcohol-, Marijuana-, and Other Substance-Related Behaviors and Outcomes. The purpose of the FOA is to advance understanding of how public policy may serve as a tool for improving public health and welfare through its effects on behaviors and outcomes pertaining to alcohol and other drugs. This FOA is intended to support innovative research to examine policy effects that have the potential to lead to meaningful changes in public health. Research projects that may be supported by this FOA include, but are not necessarily limited to: causal analyses of the effects of one or multiple public policies; evaluations of the effectiveness of specific public policies as tools for improving public health through their effects on alcohol-, marijuana-, and other substance-related behaviors and outcomes; and research to advance methods and measurement used in studying relationships between public policies and alcohol-, marijuana-, and other substance-related behaviors and outcomes. PA-17-132 (R21), PA-17-134 (R03), PA-17-135 (R01)

Increasing the Use of Medications for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders. This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) encourages health services research designed to increase the public health impact of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved pharmacotherapies for the treatment of alcohol use disorder. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) seeks applications to conduct hypothesis-driven research to identify effective methods for increasing the utilization of currently-available medications, by addressing their acceptability (to prescribers and patients), perceived effectiveness, affordability, and feasibility of use within existing care delivery systems.  PAR-17-079 (R01)

Leveraging Electronic Health Records for Alcohol Services Research. This FOA seeks low-cost, pragmatic research projects that leverage electronic clinical records to conduct studies that address novel health services questions about the treatment of alcohol use disorders (AUD) in routine clinical care settings. Although projects may be supplemented by other data sources, it is expected that major data collection activities will be integrated into, or obtained from, routine clinical records and other electronic resources, such as patient registries, electronic health records, data warehouses, billing data, pharmacy records, and/or administrative records. Projects should address questions with direct relevance for improving clinical care for patients with AUD, while contributing to an understanding of the current utility and remaining barriers to using electronic health records in the conduct of AUD treatment services research. PAR-17-071 (R21/R33)

NIH-wide FOAs with NIAAA’s Participation:

 BRAIN Initiative: Proof of Concept Development of Early Stage Next Generation Human Brain Imaging (R01) RFA-EB-17-001

 BRAIN Initiative: Development of Next Generation Human Brain Imaging Tools and Technologies (U01) RFA-EB-17-002

 BRAIN Initiative: Research on the Ethical Implications of Advancements in Neurotechnology and Brain Science (R01) RFA-MH-17-260

 BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) - Specialized Center on Human and Non-Human Primate Brain Cell Atlases (U01) RFA-MH-17-210

 BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) - Specialized Center on Mouse Brain Cell Atlas (U01) RFA-MH-17-230

 BRAIN Initiative: Research Career Enhancement Award for Investigators to Build Skills in a Cross-Disciplinary Area (K18) RFA-DA-17-022

 BRAIN Initiative: Next-Generation Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human Central Nervous System (UG3/UH3) RFA-NS-17-005

 BRAIN Initiative: Optimization of Transformative Technologies for Large Scale Recording and Modulation in the Nervous System (U01) RFA-NS-17-004

 BRAIN Initiative: Next-Generation Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human Central Nervous System (U44) RFA-NS-17-007

 BRAIN Initiative: SBIR Direct to Phase II Next-Generation Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human Central Nervous System (U44) RFA-NS-17-008

 BRAIN Initiative: Clinical Studies to Advance Next-Generation Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human Central Nervous System (UH3) RFA-NS-17-003

 BRAIN Initiative: Data Archives for the BRAIN Initiative (R24) RFA-MH-17-255

 BRAIN Initiative: Standards to Define Experiments Related to the BRAIN Initiative (R24) RFA-MH-17-256

 BRAIN Initiative: Integration and Analysis of BRAIN Initiative Data (R24) RFA-MH-17-257

 BRAIN Initiative: Targeted BRAIN Circuits Projects – Targeted BCP (R01) RFA-NS-17-014 (R01); RFA-NS-17-015 (R21)

 BRAIN Initiative: Team-Research BRAIN Circuit Programs - TeamBCP (U19) RFA-NS-17-018

 BRAIN Initiative: Research Opportunities Using Invasive Neural Recording and Stimulating Technologies in the Human Brain (U01) RFA-NS-17-019

 BRAIN Initiative Fellows: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32) RFA MH-17-250

 BD2K Support for Meetings of Data Science Related Organizations (U13) RFA-CA-16-020

 Multi-Site Pilot and Feasibility Studies for System-Level Implementation of Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Services (R34) PAR-16-456

 Multi-Site Studies for System-Level Implementation of Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Services (R01) PAR-16-455

Administrative Supplements for Research on Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Populations (Admin Supp) PA-17-098

 Administrative Supplement for Research on Sex/Gender Influences (Admin Supp) PA-17-078

 NLM Administrative Supplements for Informationist Services in NIH-funded Research Projects (Admin Supp) PA-17-090

 NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award (F99/K00) RFA-NS-17-009

 Addressing Health Disparities through Effective Interventions Among Immigrant Populations, PA-17-042, PA-17-044 (R21) PA-17-043 ((R01)

 Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Collaborative Research Centers (CRCs) (U54) RFA-NS-17-021

Data Management and Coordinating Center (DMCC) for the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Collaborative Research Centers (CRC) (U24) RFA-NS-17-022

 Basic Mechanisms of Brain Development Mediating Substance Use and Dependence (R01) PA-17-119

HIV-1 infection of the Central Nervous System (R01) PA-17-100

 Research on the Health of Women of Underrepresented, Understudied and Underreported (U3) Populations An ORWH FY17 Administrative Supplement (Admin Supp) PA-17-101

NIH-DoD-VA Pain Management Collaboratory - Pragmatic Clinical Trials Demonstration Projects (UG3/UH3) RFA-AT-17-001


Dr. Ken Warren gave an invited plenary presentation on the “History of Alcohol and Pregnancy and Dr. Peggy Murray gave an invited plenary lecture on how local work on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) by countries and communities can fit into the Global Health Policy agenda, at the European FASD Alliance Conference, Royal Holloway University, London, England, September 12–15, 2016. 

Dr. Peggy Murray served as a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Health Committee meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as they presented their update on a project designed to help member countries reduce alcohol-related harm through effective policy interventions, October 10–11, 2016, in Paris, France. 

Dr. Raye Litten presented “Update on Medications Development to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder,” to the Friends of NIAAA in Washington, D.C., on October 18, 2016.  The Friends of NIAAA is a non-profit advocacy group composed of organizations supporting the mission and research of NIAAA.

Dr. George F. Koob and Dr. Peggy Murray participated in the second Medicine Responds to Addiction Symposium, a collaborative effort of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and seven federal partners (NIAAA, NIDA, NCI, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Health Resources and Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Department of Veterans Affairs). Dr. Koob set the stage for the day’s discussion with an opening plenary talk on the state of alcohol addiction science: State of the Art of Addiction Science, Practice, and Service. Dr. Murray served on the planning committee of the meeting.

Dr. Hemin Chin and Dr. Antonio Noronha organized and convened a strategic planning meeting on the genetics and genomics of AUD, held on October 26, 2016, in Rockville, Maryland.

Dr. Kenneth Warren delivered a plenary address “The Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Agenda in the United States,” and Dr. Peggy Murray gave a plenary lecture, “The Status of FASD Research in the World” at the conference, La Sindrome Feto Alcolica: Dalla diagnosi al trattamento: quali azioni per la prevenzione, held in Rome, Italy, November 10, 2016.

Several NIAAA staff presented and chaired sessions at the mini-convention on “Frontiers in Addiction Research: Relapse and Recovery - from Mechanistic Understanding to Translational Research” sponsored by NIAAA and NIDA in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California, November 11, 2016. The mini-convention focused on relapse and recovery, with an emphasis on the integration of preclinical and clinical research and on leveraging insights from big data approaches. The symposium highlighted notable studies in alcohol and drug research, in areas ranging from molecular mechanisms to treatment in clinical populations. 

  • Dr. George F. Koob gave the opening remarks and final discussion.
  • Dr. Antonio Noronha gave the introduction to the mini-convention
  • Dr. Changhai Cui chaired the session on Drug Memory and Molecular Drivers of Relapse
  • Dr. John Matochik, the co-organizer of the mini-convention, co-chaired the session on Joint NIDA-NIAAA Early Career Investigator Showcase and chaired the session on Relapse Risk and Treatment.

Dr. Kenneth Warren gave a plenary lecture on the “History and Current Status of Alcohol Research in the U.S.” and a lecture on the “Identification and Prevention of FASD,” and Dr. Peggy Murray gave a special lecture titled “Integrating Addiction into Medical Education” at the 20th Anniversary of Korean Addiction Psychiatry conference, Seoul, South Korea, November 18, 2016.

Dr. Ralph Hingson attended and represented the U.S. government at the Third Meeting of the Coordinating Council for the Implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on November 21–23, 2016. This meeting coincided with the Seventh European Alcohol Policy Conference, held during the same time frame in Ljubljana.

Dr. George Kunos was the plenary speaker at the Southeastern Wisconsin Cannabinoid Research Day, at Milwaukee, December 2, 2016. His talk was titled “The endocannabinoid/CB1 receptor system in health and disease.”

Dr. Kendall Bryant presented at the VACS-COMpAAAS Scientific Meeting held in Washington D.C., December 11-13, 2016. The conference was organized by the Yale School of Medicine’s Consortium to Improve Outcomes in HIV/AIDS, Alcohol, Aging, and Multi-Substance Use (COMpAAAS), an initiative that evolved from the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS).

Dr. George F. Koob, Dr. Patricia Powell and Dr. Deidra Roach participated in screenings of the HBO documentary Risky DrinkingDr. Koob and Dr. Roach were involved in a screening at the HBO headquarters in New York, NY, while Dr. Powell and Dr. Roach participated in screenings of the film at Harvard University and Yale University.  Risky Drinking, which HBO produced in collaboration with NIAAA, chronicles the struggles of four individuals at different levels of severity on the spectrum of alcohol use disorder (AUD), from weekend binge drinking to severe, life-threatening alcohol dependence, and their journeys toward moderating their alcohol consumption. Dr. Koob and Dr. Roach are among four medical and mental health professionals who appear in the film to provide the biomedical context for the consequences of risky drinking as they unfold in the lives of the four subjects. The documentary premiered on HBO on December 19, 2016. HBO will continue to disseminate the film nationwide through student groups on college campuses, health care provider organizations, health research organizations, and other stakeholders.

Dr. Peggy Murray presented information about the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial to the Friends of NIAAA in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 2017. 

Dr. Patricia Powell was a panelist with Dr. Joshua A. Gordon, Director of the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), and Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director, at the SAMHSA Joint National Advisory Council Meeting on February 2, 2017.  The theme of their discussion was “Translating Science to Service (and Back Again)”. 



The inaugural Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on “Alcohol-Induced End Organ Diseases” co-organized by Drs. Bin Gao and Andras Orosz (NIAAA) and Dr. Laura Nagy (Cleveland Clinic), is scheduled for the week of March 26–31, 2017 at the Four Points Sheraton in Ventura, California. Conferences will be held every second year and will provide an important forum for discussions of the tissue and organ damage caused by excessive alcohol use. 

The NIAAA Strategic Plan for Research: 2017-2021 is in the final stages of production and will be available in print and online in March 2017.  

Dr. Andras Orosz, Division of Metabolism and Health Effects, and Dr. Len Neckers, Senior Investigator, NCI, co-chairs of the trans-NIH “Proteostasis” Scientific Interest Group, proposed and will host Dr. Peter Walter (University of California, San Francisco) for the 2016–2017 NIH Director’s Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series (WALS), the highest-profile lecture program at the NIH. His talk titled “From protein folding to cognition: a serendipitous path of discovery” will take place on April 19, 2017, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Dr. Walter is the winner of the 2014 Lasker Award.



Aging Aggravates Alcoholic Liver Injury and Fibrosis in Mice by Downregulating Sirtuin 1 Expression

Significance: Aging is known to exacerbate alcoholic liver disease progression; however, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unclear. This study demonstrated that Sirtuin 1 (SIRT 1), a key metabolic sensor, was markedly downregulated in the livers from aged mice, and such downregulation contributed to the increased susceptibility of aged mice to alcoholic liver injury. This study suggests activation of SIRT1 could be a novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of alcoholic liver disease.

Background: Aging is known to exacerbate the progression of alcoholic liver disease (ALD), but the underlying mechanisms remain obscure. The aim of this study was to use a chronic plus binge ethanol feeding model in mice to evaluate the effects of aging on alcohol-induced liver injury. Methods: C57BL/6 mice were subjected to short-term (10days) ethanol plus one binge or long-term (8weeks) ethanol plus multiple binges of ethanol. Liver injury and fibrosis were determined. Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) were isolated and used in in vitro studies. Results: Middle-aged (12-14months) and old-aged (>16months) mice were more susceptible to liver injury, inflammation, and oxidative stress induced by short-term plus one binge or long-term plus multiple binges of ethanol feeding when compared to young (8-12weeks) mice. Long-term plus multiple binges of ethanol feeding induced greater liver fibrosis in middle-aged mice than that in young mice. Hepatic expression of sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) protein was downregulated in the middle-aged mice compared to young mice. Restoration of SIRT1 expression via the administration of adenovirus-SIRT1 vector ameliorated short-term plus binge ethanol-induced liver injury and fibrosis in middle-aged mice. HSCs isolated from middle-aged mice expressed lower levels of SIRT1 protein and were more susceptible to spontaneous activation in in vitro culture than those from young mice. Overexpression of SIRT1 reduced activation of HSCs from middle-aged mice in vitro with downregulation of PDGFR-α and c-Myc, while deletion of SIRT1 activated HSCs isolated from young mice in vitro. Finally, HSC-specific SIRT1 knockout mice were more susceptible to short-term plus binge ethanol-induced liver fibrosis with upregulation of PDGFR-α expression. Conclusions: Aging exacerbates ALD in mice through the downregulation of SIRT1 in hepatocytes and HSCs. Activation of SIRT1 may serve as a novel target for the treatment of ALD. (Ramirez T, Li YM, Yin S, Xu MJ, Feng D, Zhou Z, Zang M, Mukhopadhyay P, Varga ZV, Pacher P, Gao B, Wang H. J Hepatol. 2016 Nov 18. pii: S0168-8278(16)30651-1. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2016.11.004. [Epub ahead of print])


Extracellular Vesicles Released by Hepatocytes from Gastric Infusion Model of Alcoholic Liver Disease Contain a MicroRNA Barcode That Can Be Detected in Blood

Significance: This study demonstrated that in mouse models of experimental alcoholic steatohepatitis (ASH) there is increased production and release of extracellular vesicles (EVs), predominantly by hepatocytes. These EVs contain a miRNA signature detectable in blood that can be used as a “barcode” to identify ASH. These findings point to EVs as potential novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets for ASH.

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) released during cell stress, or demise, can contain a barcode of the cell origin including specific microRNAs (miRNAs). Here we tested the hypothesis that during early alcoholic steatohepatitis (ASH) development, hepatocytes (HCs) release EVs with a miRNA signature that can be measured in circulation. A time course experiment showed that after two weeks of intragastric infusion, a time-point that results in isolated steatosis, there was no increase of blood EVs. After four weeks of infusion mice developed features of early ASH accompanied by a marked increase in the level of EVs in blood (p<0.05), as well as and in culture media of isolated HCs (p<0.001) and hepatic macrophages (p<0.001) with HCs being the predominant source of EVs. The transcriptome analysis of HC-EVs from ASH mice detected differentially expressed miRNAs, including nine significantly up-regulated and four significantly down-regulated miRNAs. Target prediction and pathway analyses of the up-regulated miRNAs identified 121 potential target genes involved in inflammatory and cancer pathways such as NF-κB, EGF, Wnt, and Bcl2. Three miRNAs, let7f, miR-29a, and miR-340, were increased in blood EVs from ASH mice (p<0.05), but not in blood EVs from three other models of chronic liver injury including bile duct ligation, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and obese mice, as well as EVs released from hepatocytes exposed to ethanol. The blood EV level (p<0.01) and three miRNAs (p<0.05) were significantly increased in patients with ambulatory mild ALD as compared to non-alcoholics. CONCLUSIONS: Our results reveal that damaged hepatocytes from ASH mice are a key EV source with a specific miRNA cargo, which are specific for ASH-related liver injury. These findings uncover EVs as a potentially novel diagnostic for ASH. (Eguchi A, Lazaro RG, Wang J, Kim J, Povero D, Willliams B, Ho SB, Stärkel P, Schnabl B, Ohno-Machado L, Tsukamoto H, Feldstein AE. Hepatology. 2016 Sep 17. doi: 10.1002/hep.28838.) [Epub ahead of print])


Orphan GPR110 (ADGRF1) Targeted by N-docosahexaenoylethanolamine in Development of Neurons and Cognitive Function

Significance: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid essential for proper brain development. An endogenous DHA metabolite, synaptamide, potently promotes neuronal development, but the underlying mechanism is unknown. This study identified the orphan receptor GPR110 as the receptor for synaptamide and demonstrated that GPR110 mediates the development of neurons and cognitive function in mice. This study suggests GPR110 as a novel target for neurodevelopmental control and provides insight into the mechanism by which DHA promotes brain development and function.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) is an omega-3 fatty acid essential for proper brain development. N-docosahexaenoylethanolamine (synaptamide), an endogenous metabolite of DHA, potently promotes neurogenesis, neuritogenesis and synaptogenesis; however, the underlying molecular mechanism is not known. Here, we demonstrate orphan G-protein coupled receptor 110 (GPR110, ADGRF1) as the synaptamide receptor, mediating synaptamide-induced bioactivity in a cAMP-dependent manner. Mass spectrometry-based proteomic characterization and cellular fluorescence tracing with chemical analogues of synaptamide reveal specific binding of GPR110 to synaptamide, which triggers cAMP production with low nM potency. Disruption of this binding or GPR110 gene knockout abolishes while GPR110 overexpression enhances synaptamide-induced bioactivity. GPR110 is highly expressed in fetal brains but rapidly decreases after birth. GPR110 knockout mice show significant deficits in object recognition and spatial memory. GPR110 deorphanized as a functional synaptamide receptor provides a novel target for neurodevelopmental control and new insight into mechanisms by which DHA promotes brain development and function. (Lee JW, Huang BX, Kwon H, Rashid MA, Kharebava G, Desai A, Patnaik S, Marugan J, Kim HY. Nature Communications. 2016 Oct 19;7:13123. doi: 10.1038/ncomms13123.)


The Use of Cardiac Orienting Responses as an Early and Scalable Biomarker of Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Impairment

Significance: Identifying children with prenatal alcohol exposure can be difficult, especially during infancy when early interventions may be most effective. In this study, researchers attempted to identify prenatal alcohol-affected infants by assessing their performance in a 6-month cardiac orienting response (COR) paradigm as a predictor of developmental delay at 12 months of age. CORs are specific patterns of heart rate decelerations in the presence of novel visual or auditory stimuli. Their findings suggest that a COR-based assessment during infancy may serve as an early screening tool for identification of aspects of the neurobehavioral profile of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders that historically have been unobtainable until later in childhood.  

BACKGROUND: Considered the leading cause of developmental disabilities worldwide, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a global health problem. To take advantage of neural plasticity, early identification of affected infants is critical. The cardiac orienting response (COR) has been shown to be sensitive to the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure and is an inexpensive, easy to administer assessment tool. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the COR effectiveness in assessing individual risk of developmental delay.  METHODS: As part of an ongoing longitudinal cohort study in Ukraine, live-born infants of women with some to heavy amounts of alcohol consumption in pregnancy were recruited and compared to infants of women who consumed low or no alcohol. At 6 and 12 months, infants were evaluated with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development-II. CORs were also collected during a habituation/dishabituation learning paradigm. Using a supervised logistic regression classifier, we compared the predictive utility of the COR indices to that of the 6-month Bayley scores for identification of developmental delay based on 12-month Bayley scores. Heart rate collected at each second (Standard COR) was compared to key features (Key COR) extracted from the response.  RESULTS: Negative predictive values (NPV) were 85% for Standard COR, 82% for Key COR, and 77% for the Bayley, and positive predictive values (PPV) were 66% for Standard COR, 62% for Key COR, and 43% for the Bayley.  CONCLUSIONS: Predictive analysis based on the COR resulted in better NPV and PPV than the 6-month Bayley score. As the resources required to obtain a Bayley score are substantially more than in a COR-based paradigm, the findings are suggestive of its utility as an early scalable screening tool based on the COR. Further work is needed to test its long-term predictive accuracy. (Mesa DA, Kable JA, Coles CD, Jones KL, Yevtushok L, Kulikovsky Y, Wertelecki W, Coleman TP, Chambers CD; CIFASD.  Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Nov 24. DOI: 10.1111/acer.13261 [Epub ahead of print])


Impairments in Component Processes of Executive Function and Episodic Memory in Alcoholism, HIV Infection, and HIV Infection with Alcoholism Comorbidity

Significance: Executive functioning and episodic memory impairment occur in HIV infection (HIV) and chronic alcoholism (ALC). Comorbidity of these conditions (HIV + ALC) is prevalent and heightens vulnerability to separate and compounded deficits. This study of patients with HIV, ALC, or HIV + ALC found both disease specific and disease overlapping deficits in executive function and episodic memory and suggests that cognitive deficits may be exacerbated by aging in people with HIV + ALC.  

Executive functioning and episodic memory impairment occur in HIV infection (HIV) and chronic alcoholism (ALC). Comorbidity of these conditions (HIV + ALC) is prevalent and heightens risk of vulnerability to separate and compounded deficits. Age and disease-related variables can also serve mediators of cognitive impairment and should be considered, given the extended longevity of HIV-infected individuals in this era of improved pharmacological therapy. METHODS: HIV, ALC, HIV + ALC, and normal controls (NC) were administered traditional and computerized tests of executive function and episodic memory. Test scores were expressed as age- and education-corrected Z-scores; selective tests were averaged to compute Executive Function and Episodic Memory Composite scores. Efficiency scores were calculated for tests with accuracy and response times. RESULTS: HIV, ALC, and HIV + ALC had lower scores than NC on Executive Function and Episodic Memory Composites, with HIV + ALC even lower than ALC and HIV on the Episodic Memory Composite. Impairments in planning and free recall of visuospatial material were observed in ALC, whereas impairments in psychomotor speed, sequencing, narrative free recall, and pattern recognition were observed in HIV. Lower decision-making efficiency scores than NC occurred in all 3 clinical groups. In ALC, age and lifetime alcohol consumption were each unique predictors of Executive Function and Episodic Memory Composite scores. In HIV + ALC, age was a unique predictor of Episodic Memory Composite score. CONCLUSIONS: Disease-specific and disease-overlapping patterns of impairment in HIV, ALC, and HIV + ALC have implications regarding brain systems disrupted by each disease and clinical ramifications regarding the complexities and compounded damping of cognitive functioning associated with dual diagnosis that may be exacerbated with aging. (Fama R, Sullivan EV, Sassoon SA, Pfefferbaum A, Zahr NM. AIDS Behav. 2016 Dec 29. doi: 10.1007/s10461-016-1665-6. [Epub ahead of print]) (Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Dec;40(12):2656-2666. doi: 10.1111/acer.13250. Epub 2016 Oct 19.)


Ethanol-Sensitive Pacemaker Neurons in the Mouse External Globus Pallidus

Significance: It is important to identify cellular and molecular targets for low dose effects of ethanol, as they are likely to contribute to intoxication and subsequent effects of drug exposure.  We have identified low dose ethanol inhibition both in brain slices and in vivo of the activity of a specific subset of neurons in a brain region involved in action and habit control, namely the Globus Pallidus external segment.  This inhibition involves activation of a specific molecular target, the high conductance BK-type potassium channel. The affected neurons project to an addiction-related brain region known as the striatum, and thus this inhibition likely contributes to acute intoxication and striatal inhibition that can foster habitual ethanol seeking.

Although ethanol is one of the most widely used drugs, we still lack a full understanding of which neuronal subtypes are affected by this drug. Pacemaker neurons exert powerful control over brain circuit function, but little is known about ethanol effects on these types of neurons. Neurons in the external Globus Pallidus (GPe) generate pacemaker activity that controls basal ganglia, circuitry associated with habitual and compulsive drug use. We performed patch-clamp recordings from GPe neurons. We found that bath application of ethanol dose-dependently decreased the firing rate of low frequency GPe neurons, but did not alter the firing of high frequency neurons. GABA or glutamate receptor antagonists did not block the ethanol effect. The GPe is comprised of a heterogeneous population of neurons. We used Lhx6-EGFP and Npas1-tdTm mice strains to identify low-frequency neurons. Lhx6 and Npas1 neurons exhibited decreased firing with ethanol, but only Npas1 neurons were sensitive to 10 mM ethanol. Large conductance voltage and Ca2+ activated K+ (BK) channel plays a key role in the ethanol effect on GPe neurons, as the application of BK channel inhibitors blocked the ethanol-induced firing decrease. Ethanol also increased BK channel open probability measured in single-channel recordings from Npas1-tdTm neurons. In addition, in vivo electrophysiological recordings from GPe showed that ethanol decreased the firing of a large subset of low frequency neurons. These findings indicate how selectivity of ethanol effects on pacemaker neurons can occur, and enhance our understanding of the mechanisms contributing to acute ethanol effects on the basal ganglia. (Abrahao KP, Chancey JH, Chan CS, Lovinger DM Neuropsychopharmacology 2016 Dec 14. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.251. [Epub ahead of print])


Kv7 Channels in the Nucleus Accumbens are Altered by Chronic Drinking and are Targets for Reducing Alcohol Consumption 

Significance: Administration, either systemically or in the nucleus accumbens, of the FDA-approved anticonvulsant retigabine, a Kv7 channel opener, reduces voluntary ethanol consumption in rats. In addition, genes that encode Kv7 channels are implicated in the regulation of ethanol drinking, and chronic alcohol consumption produces neuroadaptations in Kv7 channels. This study suggests that retigabine may be re-purposed as a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and identifies Kv7 channels as a novel therapeutic target for AUD.

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are a major public health issue and produce enormous societal and economic burdens. Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved pharmacotherapies for treating AUDs suffer from deleterious side effects and are only effective in a subset of individuals. It is therefore essential to find improved medications for the management of AUDs. Emerging evidence suggests that anticonvulsants are a promising class of drugs for treating individuals with AUDs. In these studies, we used integrative functional genomics to demonstrate that genes that encode Kv7 channels (i.e. Kcnq2/3) are related to alcohol (ethanol) consumption, preference and acceptance in rodents. We then tested the ability of the FDA-approved anticonvulsant retigabine, a Kv7 channel opener, to reduce voluntary ethanol consumption of Wistar rats in a two-bottle choice intermittent alcohol access paradigm. Systemic administration and microinjections of retigabine into the nucleus accumbens significantly reduced alcohol drinking, and retigabine was more effective at reducing intake in high- versus low-drinking populations of Wistar rats. Prolonged voluntary drinking increased the sensitivity to the proconvulsant effects of pharmacological blockade of Kv7 channels and altered surface trafficking and SUMOylation patterns of Kv7.2 channels in the nucleus accumbens. These data implicate Kcnq2/3 in the regulation of ethanol drinking and demonstrate that long-term drinking produces neuroadaptations in Kv7 channels. In addition, these results have identified retigabine as a potential pharmacotherapy for treating AUDs and Kv7 channels as a novel therapeutic target for reducing heavy drinking. (McGuier NS, Griffin WC 3rd, Gass JT, Padula AE, Chesler EJ, Mulholland PJ. Addict Biol. 2016 Nov;21(6):1097-1112)


Neural Predictors of Initiating Alcohol Use During Adolescence

Significance: The ability to identify young adolescents at risk for subsequent alcohol use problems can aid in understanding how to target prevention and intervention approaches. The current study used a machine learning technique called the random forest model (which compares several decision trees to improve accuracy) to predict which individuals at age 18 would initiate alcohol use based on data obtained when they were 12-14 years old. The model, with a combination of demographic, neurocognitive, and brain imaging data, was significantly more predictive of alcohol use problems than the standard demographic model, which included factors such as pubertal development, grade point average, and externalizing behaviors. Notably, 7 of the 10 most predictive variables were derived from neural-based measures and not demographic variables.

OBJECTIVE: Underage drinking is widely recognized as a leading public health and social problem for adolescents in the United States. Being able to identify at-risk children before they initiate heavy alcohol use could have immense clinical and public health implications; however, few investigations have explored individual-level precursors of adolescent substance use. This prospective investigation used machine learning with demographic, neurocognitive, and neuroimaging data in substance-naive adolescents to predict alcohol use initiation by age 18.  METHOD: Participants (N=137) were healthy substance-naive adolescents (ages 12-14) who underwent neuropsychological testing and structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI and fMRI), and then were followed annually. By age 18, 70 youths (51%) initiated moderate to heavy alcohol use, and 67 remained nonusers. Random forest classification models generated individual alcohol use outcome predictions based on demographic, neuropsychological, sMRI, and fMRI data.  RESULTS: The final random forest model was 74% accurate, with good sensitivity (74%) and specificity (73%). The model contained 34 predictors contributing to alcohol use by age 18, including several demographic and behavioral factors (being male, higher socioeconomic status, early dating, more externalizing behaviors, positive alcohol expectancies), worse executive functioning, and thinner cortices and less brain activation in diffusely distributed regions of the brain. Inclusion of neuropsychological, sMRI, and fMRI data significantly increased the prediction accuracy of the model. CONCLUSIONS: The results provide evidence that multimodal neuroimaging data, as well as neuropsychological testing, can be used to generate predictions of future behaviors such as adolescent alcohol use with significantly better accuracy than demographic information alone. (Squeglia LM, Ball TM, Jacobus J, Brumback T, McKenna BS, Nguyen-Louie TT, Sorg SF, Paulus MP, Tapert SF. American Journal of Psychiatry. epub ahead of print August 19, 2016)


Multi-Level Prevention Trial of Alcohol Use Among American Indian and White High School Students in the Cherokee Nation

Significance: This study substantiates the effectiveness of utilizing novel citizen-driven, community-based environmental strategies to reduce youth access to alcohol, and school-based, universal screening and brief intervention to reduce overall alcohol use, heavy episodic drinking, and associated consequences among American Indian youth. Replication of these targeted, adaptive intervention strategies shows potential to address health disparities through lowering alcohol-related risk among youth in multiple segments of the US population.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of a multilevel intervention designed to prevent underage alcohol use among youths living in the Cherokee Nation. Methods: We randomly assigned 6 communities to a control, Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol (CMCA; a community-organizing intervention targeting alcohol access) only, CONNECT (a school-based universal screening and brief intervention) only, or a combined condition. We collected quarterly surveys 2012–2015 from students starting in 9th and 10th grades and ending in 11th and 12th grades. Response rates ranged from 83% to 90%; 46% of students were American Indian (of which 80% were Cherokee) and 46% were White only. Results: Students exposed to CMCA, CONNECT, and both showed a significant reduction in the probability over time of 30-day alcohol use (25%, 22%, and 12% reduction, respectively) and heavy episodic drinking (24%, 19%, and 13% reduction) compared with students in the control condition, with variation in magnitude of effects over the 2.5-year intervention period. Conclusions: CMCA and CONNECT are effective interventions for reducing alcohol use among American Indian and other youths living in rural communities. Challenges remain for sustaining intervention effects. (Komro KA, Livingston MD, Wagenaar AC, Kominsky TK, Pettigrew DW, Garrett BA, & The Cherokee Nation Prevention Trial Team. Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print January 19, 2017: e1–e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303603.)


Comparison of 12-Step Groups to Mutual Help Alternatives for AUD in a Large, National Study: Differences in Membership Characteristics and Group Participation, Cohesion, and Satisfaction

Significance: There are many alternatives to 12-step groups for alcohol use disorder that have yet to be evaluated. Findings from this study show promise for 12-step alternatives (including LifeRing, Women for Sobriety, and SMART Recovery) given high levels of participation, satisfaction, and group cohesion among members of these alternative mutual help groups. 

Background: The present study aimed to extend the knowledge base on mutual help group alternatives for those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), sampling from large, active, abstinence-focused groups including Women for Sobriety (WFS), LifeRing, and SMART Recovery (SMART). This paper presents a cross-sectional analysis of this longitudinal study, using baseline data to describe the profile and participation characteristics of attendees of these groups in comparison to 12-step members. Methods: Data from participants 18 and over with a lifetime AUD (N=651) were collected using Web-based surveys. Members of alternative 12-step groups were recruited in collaboration with group directors, who helped publicize the study by emailing meeting conveners and attendees and posting announcements on social media. A comparison group of current (past-30-day) 12-step attendees was recruited from an online meeting hub for recovering persons. Interested parties were directed to a Webpage where they were screened, and eligible participants completed an online survey assessing demographic and clinical variables; in-person and online mutual help involvement; and group satisfaction and cohesion. Analyses involved comparing those identifying WFS, SMART, and LifeRing as their primary group to 12-step members on the above characteristics. Results: Compared to 12-step members, members of the mutual help alternatives were less religious and generally higher on education and income. WFS and LifeRing members were also older, more likely to be married, and lower on lifetime drug and psychiatric severity; meanwhile, LifeRing and SMART members were less likely to endorse the most stringent abstinence goal. Finally, despite lower levels of in-person meeting attendance, members of all the 12-step alternatives showed equivalent activity involvement and higher levels of satisfaction and cohesion compared to 12-step members. Conclusions: Results suggest differences across 12-step groups and their alternatives that may be relevant when advising clients on a choice of mutual help group. Meanwhile, findings for high levels of participation, satisfaction, and cohesion among members of the mutual help alternatives suggest promise for these groups in addressing addiction problems. (Zemore SE, Kaskutas LA, Mericle A, and Hemberg JJ. Sub Abuse Treatment. 2017, 73, 16-26)


Is Alcoholics Anonymous Religious, Spiritual, Neither? Findings from 25 Years of Behavior Change Research

Significance: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most widely used social support networks utilized for deterring problematic alcohol use. This paper summarizes the latest scientific research conducted on AA and its mechanisms of behavior change. Findings indicate that AA confers benefits through multiple mechanisms simultaneously, but in particular by facilitating adaptive social network changes and boosting social abstinence self-efficacy (i.e., confidence in one's ability to remain abstinent when confronted with high-risk social drinking situations) and negative affect abstinence self-efficacy (i.e., confidence in one's ability to remain abstinent when experiencing depression/anxiety).

Background: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a world-wide recovery mutual-help organization that continues to arouse controversy. In large part, concerns persist because of AA’s ostensibly quasi-religious/spiritual orientation and emphasis. In 1990 the United States’ Institute of Medicine called for more studies on AA’s effectiveness and its mechanisms of behavior change (MOBC), stimulating a flurry of federally funded research. This paper reviews the religious/spiritual origins of AA and its program, and contrasts its theory with findings from this latest research. Method: Literature review, summary and synthesis of studies examining AA’s MOBC. Results: While AA’s original main text (‘the Big Book’, 1939) purports that recovery is achieved through quasi-religious/spiritual means (‘spiritual awakening’), findings from studies on MOBC suggest this may be true only for a minority of participants with high addiction severity. AA’s beneficial effects seem to be carried predominantly by social, cognitive and affective mechanisms. These mechanisms are more aligned with the experiences reported by AA’s own larger and more diverse membership as detailed in its later social, cognitive and behaviorally oriented publications (e.g. Living Sober, 1975) written when AA membership numbered more than a million men and women. Conclusions: Alcoholics Anonymous appears to be an effective clinical and public health ally that aids addiction recovery through its ability to mobilize therapeutic mechanisms similar to those mobilized in formal treatment, but is able to do this for free over the long term in the communities in which people live. (Kelly JF. Addiction. 2016 Oct 8. doi: 10.1111/add.13590. [Epub ahead of print])

A Phase 2, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Randomized Trial Assessing the Efficacy of ABT-436, a Novel V1b Receptor Antagonist, for Alcohol Dependence

Significance: This multi-site clinical trial evaluated the efficacy and safety of a novel compound ABT-436, a vasopressin 1b antagonist, in 150 alcohol dependent patients. ABT-436 significantly reduced the frequency of drinking. In addition, ABT-436 decreased the number of cigarettes smoked by alcohol dependent smokers. In a subgroup analysis, patients with a relatively higher baseline levels of stress responded better to ABT-436 than placebo in reducing the frequency and amount of drinking. This multi-site trial is particularly innovative in that it examined a brain stress system target and evaluated the novel compound ABT-436 in the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Alcohol use disorder has been linked to dysregulation of the brain stress systems, producing a negative emotional state leading to chronic relapsing behavior. Vasopressin receptors appear to have a regulatory role in stress, anxiety, and alcohol. This study evaluated the novel compound, ABT-436, a V1b receptor antagonist, in alcohol-dependent participants in a 12-week clinical trial. Men and women (n=150) who met criteria for DSM–IV alcohol dependence were recruited across four sites. Participants received double-blind ABT-436 or placebo, and a computerized behavioral intervention. ABT-436 was titrated to 800 mg/day during weeks 2–12. Although the primary outcome, percentage of heavy drinking days, was lower in participants receiving ABT-436 compared with placebo, this difference was not statistically significant (31.3 vs 37.6, respectively; p=0.172; d=0.20). However, participants receiving ABT-436 had significantly greater percentage of days abstinent than those receiving placebo (51.2 vs 41.6, respectively; p=0.037; d=0.31). No significant differences were found between treatment groups on any other measures of drinking, alcohol craving, or alcohol-related consequences. Smokers receiving ABT-436 smoked significantly fewer cigarettes per week than those receiving placebo (p=0.046). ABT-436 was well tolerated, with diarrhea (mild-to-moderate severity) being the most common side effect. In subgroup analyses, participants with relatively higher baseline levels of stress responded better to ABT-436 than placebo on select drinking outcomes, suggesting there may be value in testing medications targeting the vasopressin receptor in high stress, alcohol-dependent patients. (Ryan ML, Falk DE, Fertig JB, Rendenbach-Mueller B, Katz DA, Tracy KA, Strain EC, Dunn KE, Kampman K, Mahoney E, Ciraulo DA, Sickles-Colaneri L, Ait-Daoud N, Johnson BA, Ransom J, Scott C, Koob GF, Litten RZ. Neuropsychpharm. 2016 Oct 19. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.214. [Epub ahead of print])



Press and Publications Activities: 

Recent News Media Interviews: Dr. Koob continues to speak with a variety of national and international news outlets on timely topics related to NIAAA’s research and its impact on the treatment and prevention of alcohol misuse and AUD. Notable interviews since September 2016 include The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, the NBC Today Show, National Public Radio, Cosmopolitan, and Ukrainian national television.

Satellite Media Tour: Dr. Koob Media InterviewsOn January 4, 2017, Dr. Koob participated in a satellite media tour, “After the Holidays: Recognizing Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder and Getting Help,” with national and local news outlets. Dr. Koob conducted 22 live and recorded interviews with television, radio, and online media outlets over a 5-hour period from the NIH television broadcast studio. Highlights included a 30-minute live radio interview with SiriusXM, including calls from listeners; an interview with a syndicated television talk show, Coffee With America; USA Radio Network; and Fox News Edge. Several interviews were recorded and aired on hundreds of stations throughout January 2017. Final metrics reporting is still ongoing; however, the Rethinking Drinking website experienced a 28 percent increase in visitor traffic in the week following the media tour, compared to the first week in December.

Press Releases:

  • Sex hormone-sensitive gene complex linked to premenstrual mood disorder (January 3, 2017)
  • NIH competition seeks wearable device to detect alcohol levels in real-time (December 8, 2016)
  • Media Advisory: NIDA-NIAAA Mini-Convention: Frontiers in Addiction Research (November 3, 2016)
  • Dr. Michael E. Charness to Deliver 21st Annual Mark Keller Honorary Lecture at the National Institutes of Health (October 28, 2016)
  • Scientists Propose Neuroscience Framework for Diagnosing Addictions (October 27, 2016)
  • Drug to treat alcohol use disorder shows promise among drinkers with high stress (September 29, 2016)

Publication Statistics: As of the end of December, there were 32,234 subscribers to the Alcohol Alert; 30,516 to Alcohol Research: Current Reviews; 20,822 to the NIAAA Spectrum; and 20,538 to receive general information. 

Social Media Highlights:Three Medications The NIAAA Twitter account (@NIAAAnews) currently has more than 17,000 followers and averages about 100,000 impressions (number of times users saw a tweet on Twitter) per month. NIAAA’s most recent Twitter chat, “Medication Options for Alcohol Use Disorder,” was held on October 6. It featured NIAAA experts Raye Litten, Ph.D., and Megan Ryan, both of DTRR. The chat was co-hosted by American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and held during their State of the Art Course in Addiction Medicine to maximize participation. The #AlcoholChat reached an estimated 303,000 accounts, and had 156 contributors and 2,165,000 exposures (the number of times an individual tweet from the chat could have been seen on Twitter). NIAAA and ASAM collaborated on an infographic (left) about medication options for AUD that was displayed at the ASAM meeting and can be viewed online at


Partnerships, Outreach & Public Liaison Activities:457 Calories

 Winter Holidays Outreach: On December 15 and 20, 2016, NIAAA distributed the fact sheet, “The Truth About Holiday Spirits: How to Celebrate Safely This Season” to the media via PR Newswire. The fact sheet was posted 230 times by outlets such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AZ Central, Buffalo News, and numerous television news outlets and alcohol-related blogs, with a potential audience of 12,250,000 people. Additionally, NIAAA tweeted several new animated, holiday-focused graphics showing how alcohol and calories in drinks add up, as well as promoted its PSA about risky drinking during the holiday season. News organizations (health and weather correspondents from ABC-TV, NBC and CBS affiliates), police and fire rescue organizations, mental health orgs, and other healthcare professionals shared NIAAA’s holiday safety messages. The PSA video has been viewed more than 19,300 times on YouTube since its launch in December 2015.

Fall Outreach: Your GlassOn September 6 and 18, 2016, NIAAA distributed the fact sheet, “Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking” to the media via PR Newswire. The fact sheet was posted 222 times by outlets such as Yahoo!, MarketWatch, the Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and numerous television news outlets nationwide, with a potential audience of 88,700,000 people. During October and November 2016, NIAAA tweeted several new animated images showing how alcohol and calories add up in fall-themed drinks, and directing people to visit the website to use the site’s interactive calculators. NIAAA also tweeted about avoiding risky drinking at Halloween.

National FASD Awareness Month: In September, NIAAA participated in a chat hosted by the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) to raise awareness about the risks associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy. NIAAA also tweeted statistics and graphic messages about FASD throughout the month and issued a news statement on September 9.

 Promotion for NIAAA’s Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge 2.0: NIAAA is once again challenging the biotech community to design a wearable device capable of measuring blood alcohol in near real-time. NIAAA is seeking prototypes for a device capable of measuring alcohol concentration in the blood or interstitial fluid that surrounds the body’s cells. This would differ from technology that detects alcohol released through the skin in sweat or vapor. The creators of the winning prototype will be awarded $200,000 and second place will receive $100,000 through, which lists federal incentive prizes and competitions. NIAAA has issued a press release about the competition and will continue to promote it through multimedia content and social media.

 Competition submissions (a working prototype, data proving functionality/reliability, and photos/videos) will be accepted until May 15, 2017. Judging is expected to take place May 16, 2017–July 26, 2017, with winners announced on or after August 1, 2017. More details about the competition here:

 HBO Risky Drinking documentary:Risky Drinking On December 19, 2016, 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 was developed with input from NIAAA and features commentary by NIAAA Director, Dr. George F. Koob and NIAAA Medical Project Officer Dr. Deidra Roach. By offering a new perspective on alcohol use as falling along a broad spectrum of risk and including life-saving information about what can help people dial back or stop their drinking, the film aims to provoke a much-needed conversation about how to identify “risky drinking” and suggest alternatives to a one-size-fits-all approach that prevents many people from seeking help. 

To promote the documentary:

  • In November, Dr. Patricia Powell, NIAAA Acting Deputy Director, and Dr. Roach participated in panel discussions following advance screenings at Harvard and Yale Universities.
  • Dr. Koob and Dr. Roach appeared at the New York premiere in early December.
  • In coordination with HBO, NIAAA created a website with informational materials, bios, and resources for finding help:
  • In coordination with NIH OD, NIAAA produced a short promotional video with Dr. Koob available here:
  • NIAAA sent emails to all NIH staff and liaison groups announcing the premiere.
  • NIAAA promoted the film on social media and coordinated with HHS and NIH OD’s social media team for the roll-out.
  • @NIAAAnews live-tweeted during the premiere; tweets were retweeted by HBO and co-producer Perri Peltz.


 Select Partnership Updates

 Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)

  • “Know More Before You Pour” competition: NIAAA is supporting a competition for CADCA coalitions to develop social media graphics using NIAAA facts and statistics. CADCA received 108 submissions from more than 50 coalitions across the country. Outstanding entries were recognized with a small prize and recognition at the CADCA National Leadership Forum:

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NoFAS)

  • In 2016, NOFAS coordinated an elective for medical school students and a lecture series for nursing students at Georgetown University. Presentations focus on NIAAA-sponsored published research on FASD, AUD, and addiction.
  • A training session featuring the NIAAA publication, Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much: A Clinician’s Guide was presented to NOFAS Affiliates that operate clinical settings during the 2016 NOFAS Affiliate Summit.

 Community of Concern

NIAAA supported the Community of Concern’s effort to translate its flagship handbook for parents, “A Parent’s Guide for the Prevention of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Use,” into Mandarin Chinese.

 National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week and Chat Day

  • NIAAA partnered with NIDA on National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, a week of events geared towards educating kids and parents about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, which took place during the week of January 23-29, 2017.
  • Experts from NIAAA, NIDA, NIMH, and the FDA were paired with editors from those agencies to offer answers that were factual and easy for kids to understand.  Dr. Koob was among the NIAAA experts who fielded questions from high school students during Chat Day. 

 Healthy Library Initiative (HLI)

The HLI is a partnership between the University of Pennsylvania and the Free Library of Philadelphia (the city’s public library system) to provide evidence-based health programming through the public library system. NIAAA is currently working with HLI leadership on a pilot program to provide NIAAA low-literacy materials for distribution to participants. So far, NIAAA has contributed English and Spanish publications to the initiative and will continue to work with the program:

 CollegeAIM Workshop: Fred Donodeo, Chief of the Communications and Public Liaison Branch, presented at a regional workshop at Rutgers University on October 28, 2016. The workshop was hosted by the New Jersey Higher Education Consortium for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Use.

 SAMHSA Prevention Day: As part of CADCA’s National Leadership Forum on February 6, 2017, Dr. Vivian Faden and Fred Donodeo presented on Targeting Harmful and Underage Student Drinking: Using CollegeAIM to Choose Your Interventions Wisely.

 Substance Abuse Librarians and Information Specialists (SALIS) Digitization Project: NIAAA has been working with SALIS to digitize and upload selected NIAAA publications to the SALIS Collection of the Internet Archives. The earliest issues of NIAAA’s scientific, peer-reviewed journal—then known as Alcohol Health & Research World (AHRW)—dating back to 1973, have now been digitized and are available here: Other historical issues of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews (ARCR), as the journal is now known, and its previous incarnations, Alcohol Research & Health and AHRW, were already archived at The most recent issues of ARCR are posted on the NIAAA website at  

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