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New Directions in Alcohol and Alcoholism Research

Alcohol - Getting the Facts

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Updated February 14, 2014

With the support of NIAAA, scientists at medical centers and universities throughout the country are studying alcoholism. The goal of this research is to develop more effective ways of treating and preventing alcohol problems.

Today, NIAAA funds approximately 90 percent of all alcoholism research in the United States. Some of the more exciting investigations include:

  • Genetic research: Scientists are now studying 3,000 individuals from several hundred families with a history of alcoholism in order to pinpoint the location of genes that influence vulnerability to alcoholism. This new knowledge will help identify individuals at high risk for alcoholism and also will pave the way for the development of new treatments for alcohol-related problems. Other research is investigating the ways in which genetic and environmental factors combine to cause alcoholism.

  • Treatment approaches: NIAAA also sponsored a study called Project MATCH, which tested whether treatment outcome could be improved by matching patients to three types of treatment based on particular individual characteristics. This study found that all three types of treatment reduced drinking markedly in the year following treatment.

  • New medications: Studies supported by NIAAA have led to the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the medication naltrexone (ReVia) for the treatment of alcoholism. When used in combination with counseling, this prescription drug lessens the craving for alcohol in many people and helps prevent a return to heavy drinking. Naltrexone is the first medication approved in 45 years to help alcoholics stay sober after they detoxify from alcohol.

Preventing Alcohol Problems

In addition to these efforts, NIAAA is sponsoring promising research in other vital areas, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol's effects on the brain and other organs, aspects of drinkers' environments that may contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, strategies to reduce alcohol-related problems, and new treatment techniques.

Together, these investigations will help to prevent alcohol problems; identify alcohol abuse and alcoholism at earlier stages; and make available new, more effective treatment approaches for individuals and families.

Back to 'Getting the Facts'

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