Alcohol-related problems touch virtually everyone. I, personally, have lost several colleagues to alcohol use disorder and seen it wreak havoc in many families. The cost of alcohol misuse to society is enormous, and the public is hungry for information about alcohol and its effects on health. As National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Director, I regularly get appeals from people desperate to help loved ones find treatment. Colleges and universities call seeking information about how to address binge drinking on their campuses. This is what motivates me as NIAAA Director and a neuroscientist.
NIAAA’s mission is to generate and disseminate fundamental knowledge about the effects of alcohol on health and well-being and apply that knowledge to improve the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol-related problems, including alcohol use disorder, across the lifespan. For nearly 50 years, NIAAA has been at the forefront of cutting-edge alcohol research. This work has significantly expanded our understanding of how alcohol affects the brain and body and has led to better interventions to prevent and treat alcohol misuse and related conditions.
Yet more needs to be done. Alcohol misuse still claims the lives of 88,000 Americans each year, making it the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Far too many young people see binge and extreme binge drinking—dangerous practices that can have deadly consequences—as rites of passage. And, sadly, alcohol use disorder is still viewed by many as a moral failing or character flaw, rather than a chronic brain disease from which people can, and do, recover. Many people are not aware that there are effective treatments for alcohol use disorder; and personalized treatments are an exciting, attainable goal.
NIAAA’s strategic plan charts our course for the next five years as we seek to address these challenges, recognizing that flexibility will be needed to capitalize on emerging research opportunities, and that collaboration with our stakeholders is key to achieving our goals. Preventing alcohol misuse at all ages; improving the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder and alcohol-induced pathology, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and organ damage; and developing new treatments for these conditions are several of the Institute’s most salient goals. I am optimistic that NIAAA-supported research will pave the way for future breakthroughs that will help more Americans live healthier, more productive lives.
George F. Koob, Ph.D.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism