The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is the primary policy and research organization working under the National Institute of Health in America on areas relating to alcohol. The NIAAA is the national leader of research into alcohol-related problems, including examining issues relating to consumption, prevention and treatment. The organization collaborates with other institutes and organizations that work in the field of alcohol and alcohol-related issues on a range of research areas that include scientific research and medical advancements. This information is used to direct policy decisions, publish papers and information pamphlets, and direct future research for governments and other organizations at a national and international level.
The NIAAA was established in 1970 as the primary authority to develop and conduct health, education, training, research and planning programs for the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. In 1976, the work of the NIAAA was expanded to include behavioral and biomedical research and studies into the economic and social consequences of alcoholism. The NIAAA is one of the key authority organizations worldwide that works on researching treatment options, examining biological and social causes of alcoholism, developing educational resources and providing expert advice on alcoholism and the dangers of alcohol.
The primary role of the NIAAA is to conduct and support research into alcoholism and alcohol-related areas. Throughout the history of the organization, it has collected extensive information through its studies. This includes information related to alcohol and pregnancy, genetics, social and economic consequences and more. The NIAA has been a leader in the development of the disease model of addiction. This model acknowledges that alcoholism is a complex disease with a range of different causes, influences and treatments. Alcoholism can be the cause of many other health problems, and it can be contributed to by genetics, environment and social influences.
There are two primary research arms of the NIAAA which are extramural and intramural. Extramural research provides funding for other organizations to conduct studies and gather data to support the research directions of the NIAAA. The extramural research topic may be directed by the NIAAA or it can be independent studies. Intramural are in-house clinical trials and assessments that the NIAAA works on. Both research types provide invaluable information for the area of alcohol abuse and alcoholism and give policy makers, educators, scientists and medical professionals who can use the information to make decisions and guide best practice treatments.
Genetics and Alcoholism
Genetics is a key area of research for the NIAAA who has conducted studies into the influence that genes have on an individuals’ predisposition or risk for developing alcoholism. These studies have provided invaluable information regarding the risk association of familial alcoholism. The NIAAA supported the largest study on genetics and alcoholism which diagnostically evaluated over 14000 individuals who came from families who had alcoholic relatives. These studies have shown that genetics are a contributing factor in up to half of the reasons a person may develop an addiction.
The work that the NIAAA has done on genetics and alcoholism has significantly contributed to the development of diagnostic tools that can be used by healthcare workers or medical professionals in assessing whether a person is at risk of developing an addiction. Through early diagnosis, interventions can be developed and appropriate medical support offered. The work has also proved to be significant in understanding the risks that individuals have of developing an addiction and how to avoid passing these risks on to other generations.
Researching Pregnancy and Alcohol
Pregnancy and alcohol is a contentious issue and one that has been thoroughly researched by the NIAAA. The research they have conducted has given direction to health care workers and medical professionals in advising pregnant women against consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
Drinking during pregnancy has been found to cause a number of serious health problems for both mother and child. This may include a child being born with fetal alcohol syndrome. This disorder causes significant mental and physical retardation, behavioral problems and cognitive issues. Alcohol is the only cause of fetal alcohol syndrome, and it is completely preventable. It a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy, she will not have a child affected with the disorder. Excessive drinking, including binge drinking and chronic alcoholism, are known to increase the severity of the symptoms. Women who have alcohol dependency or abuse issues should seek assistance and stop drinking before attempting to get pregnant. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can and will harm the unborn child.
Youth and Alcohol Programs
The NIAAA works closely with youth organizations including schools and colleges to develop appropriate education campaigns to inform young people about the dangers of drinking. This research work is done in collaboration with law enforcement, schools, youth organizations and others who are willing to participate in knowledge-sharing and policy development. As part of their work on youth and alcohol, the NIAAA has developed a screening test that can be used by health care workers or youth workers to determine the risk drinking that a young person may be involved in. This can be a form of early intervention to help stop the damaging effects of high risk and dangerous drinking, which is known to lead to the development of alcoholism. Through early intervention, alcoholism can be prevented.
The NIAAA is continuing to work on a range of different research areas relating to alcoholism and alcohol use. These NIAAA initiatives include:
* Medication development for alcohol-use disorders
* Genetic vulnerability to alcoholism
* Mechanisms and markers of alcohol-induced organ damage and protection.
* Behavioral risk factors
* Community-based preventions of alcohol problems
* Neuro-scientific factors in alcohol-related behaviors