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Keywords:

  • alcohol abuse;
  • alcohol addiction;
  • alcohol dependence;
  • alcohol-use disorders;
  • alcoholism

Created forty years ago, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has played a major role in the great strides made in the understanding, treatment, prevention, and public acceptance of alcohol-use disorders. Throughout most of U.S. history “habitual drunkenness” was viewed as a problem of moral degeneracy or character flaw inherent in the individual. However, the wealth of scientific evidence amassed throughout NIAAA's history has established alcoholism as a medical condition, that is, as a disease for which affected individuals should feel no shame or be treated with disdain. We look at the developments in alcohol epidemiology, typology, etiology, prevention, and treatment research over the past 40 years. We also discuss how NIAAA addresses alcohol disorders from a life-course framework, affecting all stages of the lifespan, from fetus through child, adolescent, and young adult, to midlife/senior adult, with each stage involving different risks, consequences, prevention efforts, and treatment strategies.