National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


The mission of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is to provide leadership in the national effort to reduce alcohol-related problems by:

  • Conducting and supporting research in a wide range of scientific areas including genetics, neuroscience, epidemiology, health risks and benefits of alcohol consumption, prevention, and treatment;
  • Coordinating and collaborating with other research institutes and Federal Programs on alcohol-related issues;
  • Collaborating with international, national, state, and local institutions, organizations, agencies, and programs engaged in alcohol-related work; and
  • Translating and disseminating research findings to health care providers, researchers, policymakers, and the public.

The Institute’s efforts to fulfill its mission are guided by the NIAAA vision to support and promote, through research and education, the best science on alcohol and health for the benefit of all by:

  • Increasing the understanding of normal and abnormal biological functions and behavior relating to alcohol use;
  • Improving the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol use disorders; and
  • Enhancing quality health care.

Research opportunities to increase our understanding of why, how, and when people drink, and why and how some people develop alcohol use disorders, are set forth in the NIAAA Strategic Plan for Research. The Strategic Plan can be found on the NIAAA Web site:

Important Events in NIAAA History

December 31, 1970—NIAAA was established under authority of the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-616) with authority to develop and conduct comprehensive health, education, training, research, and planning programs for the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

May 14, 1974—P.L. 93-282 was passed, establishing NIAAA, the National Institute of Mental Health, and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as coequal institutes within the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA).

July 26, 1976—NIAAA's research authority was expanded to include behavioral and biomedical etiology of the social and economic consequences of alcohol abuse and alcoholism under authority of the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act amendments of 1976 (P.L. 94-371).

August 1981—The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-35) was passed, transferring responsibility and funding for alcoholism treatment services to the states through the creation of an Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Services block grant administered by ADAMHA and strengthening NIAAA's research mission.

October 27, 1986—A new Office for Substance Abuse Prevention in ADAMHA was created through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-570), which consolidated the remainder of NIAAA's nonresearch prevention activities with those of NIDA and permitted NIAAA's total commitment to provide national stewardship to alcohol research.

1989—NIAAA launched the Collaborative Studies on Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) with the goal of identifying the specific genes underlying vulnerability to alcoholism as well as collecting clinical, neuropsychological, electrophysiological, and biochemical data, and establishing a repository of immortalized cell lines.

1991—NIAAA began the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, designed to study drinking practices, behaviors, and related problems in the general public.

July 10, 1992—NIAAA became a new NIH research institute under the authority of ADAMHA Reorganization Act (P.L. 102-321).

May 3, 1995—NIAAA celebrated its 25th anniversary.

1996—NIAAA established the Mark Keller Honorary Lecture Series. The series pays tribute to Mark Keller, a pioneer in the field of alcohol research, and features a lecture each year by an outstanding alcohol researcher who has made significant and long-term contributions to our understanding of alcohol’s effects on the body and mind. View image.

April 8, 1999—NIAAA organized the first National Alcohol Screening Day, created to provide public education, screening, and referral for treatment when indicated. The program was held at 1,717 sites across the United States, including 499 college sites.

1999—NIAAA co-sponsored the launch of the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, a unique coalition of State Governors’ spouses, Federal agencies, and public and private organizations that targets prevention of drinking in young people ages 9- to 15-years old.

April 9, 2002—NIAAA published A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges, the Final Report of the Task Force on College Drinking, which was developed by the Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a comprehensive review of research on college drinking and the effectiveness of prevention programs.

June 2004—First publication of the results from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a longitudinal survey that is a representative sample of the United States population with data on alcohol and drug use; alcohol and drug abuse and dependence; and associated psychiatric and other co-occurring disorders.

Biographical Sketch of NIAAA Director Ting-Kai (T.K.) Li, M.D

Dr. Li was appointed NIAAA Director in November 2002. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Li was Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, and the Director of the Indiana University School of Medicine Alcohol Research Center.

Born in Nanjing, China, Dr. Li earned his M.D. from Harvard University in 1959 and completed his residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. He went on to conduct research at the Nobel Research Institute and Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

After serving as Deputy Director of the Department of Biochemistry within the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Dr. Li joined the faculty at Indiana University as professor of medicine and biochemistry in 1971. He subsequently was named the school's John B. Hickam Professor of Medicine and Professor of Biochemistry and later Distinguished Professor of Medicine. In 1985 he became director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he also was the Associate Dean for Research. In 2003, Dr. Li was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree by Indiana University.

Dr. Li is the author of more than 400 journal articles and book chapters. His distinguished research career includes advances that have transformed the way alcoholism is understood and the means of investigating alcohol's effects on the body and brain, including the characterization of the structure and dynamics of the multiple genetic variants of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), the enzyme that catalyzes the first step in the metabolism of ethanol, and the differences among individuals in ADH-related physiology. Dr. Li also pioneered the development of animal models of alcohol consumption. These animal lines helped cement the once radical notion that alcohol consumption behavior was genetically influenced.

Dr. Li has delivered numerous major scientific addresses and lectureships both nationally and internationally, and is the recipient of many prestigious awards for his scientific accomplishments. These include the Jellinek Award; the James B. Isaacson Award for Research in Chemical Dependency Diseases; the R. Brinkley Smithers Distinguished Science Award; Tharp Award for Research Distinction in Alcoholism; and Presidential Citation, American Psychological Association. In 2006, Dr. Li received the Mark Brothers Lecture award from the Indiana University School of Medicine, which also announced the establishment of an endowed chair in Dr. Li’s name, in honor of his long and distinguished career and his dedication to research and leadership in the advancement of medicine.

Dr. Li is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (Fellow), American Society for Clinical Investigation (Emeritus), and the Association of American Physicians (Emeritus). He is a past member of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and of the Advisory Committee to the Director, National Institutes of Health, and the International Society for Biomedical Research in Alcoholism. In addition, Dr. Li is a past President of the Research Society on Alcoholism and an honorary fellow of the United Kingdom's Society for the Study of Addiction.

NIAAA Directors

Name In Office from To
Morris E. Chafitz 1972 September 1, 1975
Ernest P. Noble February 1976 April 1978
Loran Archer (Acting) April 1978
November 1981
January 1986
April 1979
July 1982
October 1986
John R. DeLuca May 1979 October 1981
William E. Mayer (Acting) August 1982 July 1983
Robert G. Niven August 1983 December 1985
Enoch Gordis November 1986 January 2002
Raynard Kington (Acting) January 2002 November 2002
Ting-Kai Li November 2002 Present

Organizational Structure—The Office of the Director of NIAAA comprises the following positions and offices: the NIAAA Deputy Director; the Associate Director for Administration; Associate Director for Basic Research; Associate Director for Clinical and Translational Research; the Office of Extramural Activities; the Office of Resource Management; and the Office of Science Policy and Communications.

Programs and Activities

NIAAA conducts and supports research through its Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research and through its 4 extramural divisions that provide grants to scientists at leading research institutions across the country. In addition, findings from these research endeavors are made available through a variety of research translation and dissemination programs and activities. More information on NIAAA programs can be found at NIAAA’s Web site at

Intramural Research

The overall goal of NIAAA's Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research is to understand the mechanisms by which alcohol produces intoxication, dependence, and damage to vital body organs, and to develop tools to prevent and treat those biochemical and behavioral processes. Areas of study include identification and assessment of genetic and environmental risk factors for the development of alcoholism; the effects of alcohol on the central nervous system, including how alcohol modifies brain activity and behavior; metabolic and biochemical effects of alcohol on various organs and systems of the body; noninvasive imaging of the brain structure and activity related to alcohol use; development of animal models of alcoholism; conducting epidemiologic research on alcohol use, abuse, and dependence; and the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcoholism and associated disorders.

NIAAA utilizes a combination of clinical and basic research facilities, which enables a coordinated interaction between basic research findings and clinical applications in pursuit of these goals. A 12-bed inpatient unit and a large outpatient program are located in the NIH Clinical Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

NIAAA intramural researchers investigate a number of areas, including:

  • genetic studies investigating, identifying, and characterizing genes that contribute to individual susceptibility to alcoholism and alcohol-related behaviors;
  • studies seeking a better understanding of the underlying factors of alcoholic liver disease;
  • national surveillance activities to collect, analyze, and report epidemiological data on alcohol use, abuse, and dependence, and their associated disabilities;
  • behavioral and neurophysiological studies to understand the mechanisms of the motivation to drink; and
  • studies to determine how alcohol interacts with nerve cells and the brain’s signaling system to improve our understanding of the molecular basis of alcohol dependence and lead to development of treatments and prevention strategies.

Extramural Research

Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research

NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research (DEPR) seeks to reduce alcohol-related mortality and morbidity and other alcohol-related problems and consequences through the integration and application of epidemiology and prevention science by setting research priorities; stimulating and supporting research, training, and career development; conducting research and publishing in the scientific literature; promoting dialogue and collaboration between DEPR and other organizations; contributing to alcohol-related surveillance; and disseminating scientific information.

Two major areas of focus for the Division are:
1) the epidemiology of alcohol use and alcohol-related problems, a broad area that includes the study of the following:

  • the etiology (investigating the origins and causes, including risk factors and protective factors) and the course of alcohol-related problems, including alcohol use disorders (AUDs);
  • relationship of alcohol consumption and AUDs to other diseases and disorders (such as psychiatric comorbidity and alcohol’s relationship to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases), the potential health benefits of alcohol consumption, and alcohol’s relationship to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases;
  • alcohol-related consequences (including mortality and morbidity, violence, risky and unprotected sex, compromised academic/vocational achievement, and the economic costs of alcohol);
  • the distribution, mediation, and moderation of the above by demographic characteristics;
  • alcohol-related health and preventive services; and
  • methodology.

2) the prevention of alcohol-related problems, a broad area that includes the study of the following:

  • the efficacy and effectiveness of screening and brief interventions, prevention interventions (such as comprehensive/community prevention interventions and drinking-driving countermeasures); and
  • the impact of public policy, the media, and alcohol marketing and promotion.

Division of Metabolism and Health Effects

Chronic alcohol use affects every organ and system of the body. It also can lead to medical disorders (e.g., fetal alcohol syndrome, liver disease, cardiomyopathy, and pancreatitis) throughout the lifespan—from early development to adolescence and adulthood—and contribute to the depression of immune and endocrine functions. Heavy alcohol use is also an important factor for co-morbid conditions, such as hepatitis C, osteoporosis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. NIAAA’s Division of Metabolism and Health Effects (DMHE) supports a wide range of research to elucidate the genetic, metabolic, and immunologic mechanisms of alcohol-induced tissue injury that contribute to the initiation and progression of these disorders.

Basic and clinical research studies are identifying the molecular pathways through which alcohol causes organ damage, with the goal of identifying targets for drug discovery to prevent or treat alcohol-related disorders. The potential for tissue repair and regeneration following tissue damage due to chronic heavy drinking is being explored through stem cell therapy, gene targeting, pharmacogenomics, and metabolic manipulations. The role of epigenetic effects of chronic alcohol consumption in tissue damage is another area of study.

Metabolic research in the field of alcohol abuse and alcoholism is accordingly broad in nature, encompassing enzymes, proteins, substrates, substrate adducts, co-factors, vitamins, nucleic acids, sugars, and other metabolites that may be affected by alcohol or alcohol by-products.

Other basic investigations seek to identify biomarkers for the early stages of disease using genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic approaches that will facilitate early identification and treatment before diseases become irreversible. The use of systems biology to study mechanisms of alcohol-induced tissue damage is one of the new endeavors supported by DMHE.

DMHE also supports research to elucidate the mechanism of alcohol's potential beneficial effects, including studies related to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain inflammatory diseases.

Division of Neuroscience and Behavior

The Division of Neuroscience and Behavior promotes research on ways in which neuronal and behavioral systems are influenced by genetic, developmental, and environmental factors in conjunction with alcohol exposure and how these factors may lead to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The primary goal is to support investigations into neurobiological processes promoting the initiation and maintenance of drinking, and the subsequent neuroadaptative changes leading to excessive alcohol use. This includes studies to elucidate the basic mechanisms of alcohol action on intracellular signaling pathways, neuronal membrane structure and function, ion channels and receptors, synaptic vesicle release and cycling, transporter systems, and the physiology of neurotransmission. Another goal is to identify and characterize the neurobiological and cognitive consequences of acute, binge, and chronic alcohol exposure. Results from such studies will inform the development of effective preventive and therapeutic interventions.

Areas of particular interest include:

  • the consequences of alcohol use during pregnancy that produce fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; and
  • the effects of alcohol drinking on the adolescent brain and throughout the lifespan.

The acute and chronic effects of alcohol exposure encompass molecular, genetic, and cellular factors, as well as neural pathways and circuits that mediate behavioral responses such as tolerance, dependence, sensitization, withdrawal, and relapse. Repeated exposure to alcohol results in adaptive changes that underlie behavioral tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal. Research projects focusing on these issues use sustained or episodic alcohol exposure to induce dependence in animal models. Progressive changes in the physiology and pharmacology of membrane proteins result in the development of tolerance and dependence, which sets the stage for withdrawal hyperexcitability and more subtle behavioral changes underlying addiction.

A spectrum of neurotransmitters, receptors, neuromodulators, signal transduction pathways, and gene transcription factors have been implicated in alcohol dependence and craving. The division supports preclinical research incorporating biochemical, physiological, and genetic approaches to identify candidate compounds that can minimize or reverse the actions of alcohol towards its targets. The goals of this program are to test the potential therapeutic efficacy of new and existing compounds and to understand their mechanism of action.

Through its Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism, NIAAA supports a multidisciplinary consortium of institutions conducting research to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the neuroadaptation to alcohol. The initiative integrates neurobiological, behavioral, and molecular genetic research and provides opportunities for collaboration between scientists in the alcohol field and prominent investigators from other research areas.

Division of Treatment and Recovery Research

NIAAA's Division of Treatment and Recovery Research supports research to better understand the natural history of heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders and factors associated with positive change. One priority is to better understand mechanisms of change, both for change occurring naturally as well as within the context of mutual help groups and professional treatment. There is also a need to develop and test models of disease management for chronic alcohol use disorders, especially for people who also have serious medical or mental disorders.

Another priority for NIAAA is to develop medications that diminish the craving for alcohol and reduce risk of relapse. Alcohol dependence is a complex disorder involving many neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Thus, NIAAA is exploring a range of medications to improve treatment outcomes. Several medications are at various stages of development, ranging from preclinical research to clinical application, for the treatment of alcohol dependence.
Health services research is also an important focus for the division. Current priorities include health economics research, research on stigma and help-seeking behavior, and research on implementation of evidence-based practices and quality improvement in treatment settings.

Cross-Institute Program Activity

NIAAA staff across all divisions engage in a number of cross-Institute initiatives that are require inherently broad, transdisciplinary, collaborative approaches. Examples of cross-institute activity include the following:

Research Related to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

NIAAA is the lead Federal agency for support of research to determine how alcohol consumption during pregnancy results in adverse consequences for the fetus, the most serious of which is fetal alcohol syndrome. This developmental disorder is characterized by reduced growth; facial abnormalities; and neurological, cognitive, and behavioral impairment. NIAAA chairs the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (ICCFAS), created in 1996 in response to an Institute of Medicine report. To learn more about the ICCFAS, see

In 2003, NIAAA launched the Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD), a cooperative agreement program to improve diagnosis and develop effective treatment approaches for the full spectrum of neurological disorders caused by fetal alcohol exposure. CIFASD comprises highly integrated, multidisciplinary research projects at both domestic and international sites.

In 2003, NIAAA and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development established the Prenatal Alcohol, SIDS, and Stillbirth (PASS) Research Network to determine the underlying causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and stillbirth and the role played by prenatal alcohol exposure. The study will prospectively follow 12,000 pregnant women from the Northern Plains and South Africa and their infants to one year of age. The interaction of alcohol with a variety of maternal and fetal factors will be examined.

International Programs

NIAAA has an ongoing program of international collaborative research. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are global health problems, and collaborative research projects can facilitate improved knowledge and care in this area. Much of the international research cooperation is carried out under formal "letters of intent" that are signed by the NIH and/or NIAAA Director and the heads of public and university medical research centers in foreign countries. For example, NIAAA has an active program of scientific exchange with the French Institut National de la Santè et de la Recherche Mèdicale (INSERM), and in the past 3 years has signed letters of intent to foster research cooperation and scientific exchange with the National Institute on Alcoholism in Japan; the Peking University Institute of Mental Health and the Institute of Nutritional Sciences in Bejing,China; the National Health Research Institute, Taiwan; and most recently, the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Transdisciplinary Teams

Intramural and Extramural staff participate in several cross-disciplinary Trans-divisional Research Emphasis and Resource Development Teams that focus on the following:

  • Etiology of Risk—Genes and Environment: An important NIAAA research emphasis is the need to identify genetic and environmental factors that contribute to or protect against alcohol misuse, and how these factors also interact with genetic/biological influences to increase or protect against the risk.
  • Mechanisms of Alcohol Action and Injury: Alcohol is a leading contributor to morbidity and mortality rates in the United States, a result of the many medical consequences of alcohol misuse, such as liver disease. NIAAA research seeks to clarify alcohol's effects on the body's tissues and organs and to identify how individual variations in alcohol metabolism may promote alcoholism or protect people from it. Such research will help in the development of new therapeutic strategies to prevent or slow the progression of diseases caused by excessive drinking.
  • Mechanisms of Behavior Change: In treating people with alcohol use disorders, structured interventions can encourage positive change. However, many individuals with alcohol problems also relapse in the absence of a formal intervention. A research priority for NIAAA is to stimulate studies that extend the basic understanding of how and why behavior change occurs in the context of the development and course of drinking and alcohol use disorders.
  • Medications Development: Efforts to develop medications for alcohol use disorders have expanded rapidly in recent years. However, some patients do not respond to current medications. Developing new medications, learning which patients respond to them, and discovering how to use them in combination with other medications and in conjunction with behavioral therapies are important steps toward improving treatment outcomes for individuals with alcohol use disorders.
  • Underage Drinking: Research on the causes, consequences, and prevention of underage drinking is a priority for NIAAA. Such research is done in the context of adolescent development. This transdisciplinary research initiative incorporates collaboration on many levels, including support for The Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, a unique coalition of State Governors' spouses, Federal agencies, and public and private organizations that targets prevention of drinking in young people ages 9- to 15-years old. For more details on NIAAA's research initiative on underage drinking, visit

Additional teams focus on developing technology and analysis resources as well as programs for training the next generation of investigators to carry out alcohol-related studies. For example, NIAAA's Alcohol Research Centers Program provides long-term support for interdisciplinary research that focuses on particular aspects of alcohol use disorders and alcohol-related problems. The program encourages outstanding scientists from many disciplines to provide a full range of expertise, approaches, and advanced technologies on aspects of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, or other alcohol-related problems. A complete description of the program with a list of the 15 National Alcohol Research Centers is found on the NIAAA Web site at

Research Dissemination

NIAAA maintains a communications program aimed at informing health care practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and the general public about findings from supported research programs. Examples of communications products include:

  • Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much—A Clinician's Guide, and other resources for health professionals
  • Alcohol Research & Health, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal
  • the Alcohol Alert series, quarterly bulletins on research findings for health professionals
  • the NIAAA Newsletter, featuring news, events, and new resources
  • Public service announcements, videos, posters, brochures, pamphlets, fact sheets, Web pages, and other materials for the general public.
  • Online resources—Research findings and resources available on the NIAAA Web site, including special sections such as:
    •, a resource for college students, administrators, and parents featuring information on the health consequences of alcohol misuse, campus alcohol policies, and other resources;
    •, an interactive site for middle-school students that uses quizzes, games, and graphics to deliver important messages about the risks of underage drinking and ways to resist peer pressure, and now offers lesson plans in a "Teacher and Volunteer Corner";
    • the Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS), an online resource that provides detailed information on a wide variety of alcohol-related policies in the United States at both State and Federal levels; and
    • NIAAA Clinical Trials, Web links where patients and clinicians can find alcohol-related research trials conducted both at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and at NIAAA-supported research centers across the country. These studies are registered with, the NIH public database.

These sites and other resources can be found via NIAAA's main Web site,

This page was last reviewed on January 7, 2008 .
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