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Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2024-2028

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Advancing Research on Women’s Health

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Alcohol use among women is a growing public health concern. Alcohol use is increasing among women older than age 26. For the first time, adolescent and young women (ages 12–20) are drinking—and binge drinking—more than men. A substantial body of evidence suggests that women who drink are at a higher risk of adverse alcohol-related pathology and consequences than men who drink. These include faster progression of alcohol use disorder (AUD), blackouts, liver disease, heart disease, cognitive deficits, and certain cancers, among other effects.

Research also suggests that pathways to alcohol misuse may differ between women and men. Women experience stress and trauma more frequently than men, and alcohol is often used to cope with psychological distress. Unfortunately, health care providers are less likely to screen for alcohol misuse and provide interventions to women compared to men.

To improve the health of women, NIAAA will continue to support biological and behavioral research to more fully understand how alcohol use and misuse impact women and to develop interventions tailored to the unique needs of women. This includes studies on health issues that affect young women, including the etiology, prevention, and treatment of alcohol misuse. Research is needed to elucidate sex differences in the mechanisms contributing to alcohol’s adverse effects on the brain, other organs, and body systems, and how these mechanistic differences can reveal novel targets for prevention and treatment of alcohol-related harms. More research is also needed to identify the risk and protective factors that contribute to alcohol-associated health outcomes among women to inform the development of prevention and treatment interventions.

Given the contribution of alcohol to many health conditions, NIAAA will encourage innovative studies to enhance understanding of the relationships between alcohol misuse and common comorbidities, such as mental health conditions and other acute and chronic health conditions. New research to improve implementation and coordination of evidence-based care for alcohol problems across settings, including prenatal care, and across components of health systems will be essential for improving the health and well-being of women. NIAAA is actively participating in the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research and will pursue collaboration with the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health and partners across NIH to advance integrated research in women’s health.

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