NIAAA celebrates 50 years of advancing alcohol research with scientific symposium

This December marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Over the past five decades, NIAAA-funded researchers have made tremendous progress in advancing the understanding of how alcohol impacts health.

NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D., comments, “While we have much more work to do, today we know more about how alcohol affects the brain and body than ever before, and we have better interventions to prevent and treat alcohol misuse, thanks largely to the determined and uncompromising efforts of the talented researchers supported by NIAAA. These efforts have provided the foundation for the recognition of alcohol use disorder (AUD) as a medical disorder ranging from mild to severe, rather than a moral failing.”

To commemorate five decades of biomedical discovery in the alcohol and health field, NIAAA will host a virtual scientific symposium, “Alcohol Across the Lifespan: 50 Years of Evidence-Based Diagnosis, Prevention, and Treatment Research” on November 30 and December 1. The event will be held via NIH Videocast. The symposium will include presentations by top research experts on the state of the science and opportunities to continue advancing the field. Featured topics will include updates on how to diagnose and treat AUD, as well as trends in the prevalence of and risk factors for the disorder. Speakers will also cover topics related to the biology of alcohol use and alcohol, such as the effects of alcohol exposure or consumption on fetal and adolescent brain development, liver pathology, and the stress system.

Created in 1970, NIAAA’s broad research portfolio focuses on health topics that touch the lives of almost every family and community across the United States. Today, thanks to NIAAA’s legacy of supporting innovative research, advances in evidence-based interventions have contributed to a steady decrease in underage drinking over the past two decades. NIAAA has also made great strides in understanding the deleterious effects of prenatal alcohol exposure and in elucidating the biological underpinnings of AUD and alcohol-associated liver diseases, efforts that are paving the way for improved diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.

Just as expanding the knowledge base is important, so is translating the evidence into valuable resources for the public, such as Rethinking Drinking and the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator, which are resources to help people evaluate their drinking habits and find treatment, respectively. Other resources include CollegeAIM, which helps colleges and universities identify effective evidence-based alcohol interventions, as well as a youth alcohol screening guide designed to assist health professionals in efficiently conducting alcohol screening for adolescents ages 9 to 18. Adding to these valuable resources, new evidence-based materials are on the way and will be available soon.

NIAAA also remains nimble and mobilizes to pursue emerging avenues of research in addition to its long-standing priorities. For example, the novel coronavirus pandemic has yielded many urgent research questions, and NIAAA is funding research related to alcohol and the pandemic—and contributing to COVID-19 activities across the National Institutes of Health. Information about NIAAA’s response to the pandemic and resources for the public, healthcare providers, and researchers is available on the NIAAA website.

Of great importance is the need for diversity and inclusion, both in terms of the research that NIAAA supports, the individuals who conduct that research, and the staff that supports the research enterprise. NIAAA’s commitment to increasing diversity in the scientific workforce encompasses intramural and extramural research programs and spans the pipeline from early education to established scientists. The Institute has renewed its commitment to addressing the health needs of underserved populations so that all members of society may benefit from the work that NIAAA funds.

The community of alcohol practitioners and researchers has gained valuable knowledge during NIAAA’s first five decades—knowledge that provides a strong foundation upon which to build. However, there is still a lot more work to do. NIAAA looks forward to continued scientific advances that will help prevent AUD and improve the lives of those affected by it.

To learn more about NIAAA’s history and plans for the symposium, please visit the 50th Anniversary page of the NIAAA website.

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