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NIAAA—Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on Health

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Alcohol and American Society: A Complex Relationship

Alcohol has long been an integral part of American culture, tightly woven into the fabric of society. Most adults who drink alcohol drink moderately and responsibly without complications, and some can even derive modest health benefits.

At the same time, alcohol-related problems among adults and adolescents—which result from drinking too much, too fast, or too often—are among the most significant public health issues in the United States and internationally. For example,

  • Each year in the United States, more than 88,000 people1 die from alcohol-related causes, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in our country.2
  • Excessive alcohol consumption costs the United States about $249 billion per year.3
  • In the United States, approximately 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder in 2015.4
  • More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems, according to a 2012 study.5
  • Globally, alcohol misuse is the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability.6

NIAAA’s Valuable Contribution

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The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a component of the National Institutes of Health, is the lead Federal agency for research on alcohol and health. NIAAA is the largest funder of alcohol research in the world, with an integrated and multidisciplinary program that includes genetics, basic and clinical research, neuroscience, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment.

NIAAA’s research focuses on health topics that touch the lives of almost every family and community across America:

  • Why some people develop an alcohol use disorder
  • How the consequences of harmful drinking affect individuals and society
  • How underage drinking impacts neuro-biological development in adolescents
  • How we can improve prevention, treatment, and recovery programs
  • How and why some individuals derive modest health benefits from drinking alcohol

Importantly, the Institute’s demanding scientific approach generates results that are unbiased, methodologically sound, and trustworthy—making NIAAA the definitive source for science-based information about alcohol and health for individuals, communities, policymakers, and medical practitioners.

In the alcohol prevention and treatment field, there are more life-saving tools available today than ever before, thanks largely to the determined and uncompromising efforts of the talented researchers supported by NIAAA.

Looking forward, NIAAA will continue to work toward a greater understanding of alcohol’s effects on health and society—an understanding that will help more people live long and healthy lives.

For more information, please visit:

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Average for United States 2006-2010 Alcohol-Attributable Deaths Due to Excessive Alcohol Use. Available at: Accessed September 16, 2016.

2Mokdad, A.H.; Marks, J.S.; Stroup, D.F.; and Gerberding, J.L. Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. [Published erratum in: JAMA 293(3):293–294, 298] JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association 2004;291(10):1238–1245. PMID: 15010446.

3Sacks, J.J.; Gonzales, K.R.; Bouchery, E.E. 2010 National and state costs of excessive alcohol consumption. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 49(5):e73–e79, 2015. Available at: PMID: 26477807.

4 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Table 5.6A—Substance Use Disorder In Past Year Among Persons Aged 18 or Older, by Demographic Characteristics: Numbers in Thousands, 2014 and 2015. Available at: data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015.htm#tab5-6a.

5Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Spotlight: More than 7 Million Children Live with a Parent with Alcohol Problems. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, February 16, 2012. Available at:

6 Lim, S.S.; Vos, T.; Flaxman, A.D.; et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380(9859):2224–2260, 2012. PMID: 23245609

September 2016