Turning great ideas into healthier communities


Alcohol Research Group

Established in 1959, the Alcohol Research Group (ARG), a program of the Public Health Institute, conducts and disseminates research on the epidemiology of alcohol and other drug consumption and problems, alcohol health services research, and alcohol policies while also training future generations of researchers. ARG is also home to the National Alcohol Research Center.

Program Director(s)

Thomas Greenfield
William Kerr

Program Site



Alcohol's Harms to Others Among US Adults: Individual and Contextual Effects

This survey project would be the first to assess comprehensively the types and seriousness of harms from others’ drinking in the US national adult population. By studying how relationships of victims and perpetrators, neighborhood social and economic factors, and state alcohol policies may add to or reduce risks of heavy drinkers’ harms to families, friends, and strangers, the research will inform prevention planning and generate findings relevant for developing evidence-informed alcohol policies.

12-Step Alternatives and Recovery Outcomes in a Large National Study

Alongside AA, many mutual help groups are now available that help individuals address their substance use problems and can be used before, during, after, and instead of formal treatment. Yet, little is known about the alternatives to AA. The  study would provide much-needed information on the nature and effectiveness of WFS, SMART, LifeRing, and SOS. It could extend the menu of options providers and patients consider, enhancing the likelihood that patients affiliate with a supportive peer network and maintain better outcomes.

Addiction Recovery Residences to Improve Health Outcomes in High Risk Men

Recovery residences (e.g., Oxford HousesTM, sober living houses, and recovery homes) are promising and affordable mechanisms to promote and sustain recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. Unfortunately, we know little about the experiences of LGBTIs in recovery residences and about the role that these residences may play in the recovery of LGBTIs, improvements to their overall health, and access to health services. Recovery residences developed specifically for members of the LGBTI community may be an especially promising way to tailor recovery support and increase overall health among this population, but few exist, and we know little about the programming of those that do.

Alcohol and Pregnancy: Do State-Level Punitive and Supportive Policies Matter?

The Alcohol Research Group will support UCSF’s study by:  1) Prepare complex survey and vital statistics data for analysis, including strategies for variable coding to account for changes in question wording, measurement, and sampling that occurred over the thirty to forty years of data collection;  2) Prepare datasets for analysis and conduct preliminary analyses; 3) Conduct data analysis and provide guidance to Dr. Roberts on data analysis; 4) Collaborate closely with Dr. Roberts to interpret findings and 5) Contribute as co-authors on manuscripts for publication as well as conference presentations.

Alcohol Use Among Asian American & Young Adults: Do Subgroups Differ?

This study will improve knowledge about Asian American adolescent and young adult drinking and inform effective intervention strategies. It is a secondary analysis of an Asian American sample extracted from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to test hypotheses such as that having low attachment to parents and more close friends who drink are associated with higher alcohol use in adolescence and over time.

Alcohol’s Harms to Others: Multinational Cultural Contexts and Policy Implications

This project would be the first to assess the types, severity, and individual and contextual correlates of harms from others’ heavy drinking in a wide range of societies with greatly varying drinking cultures and policies. Studying alcohol’s harms to others in a multinational, public health framework parallels the role that data on second-hand smoking harms played in making the case for tobacco regulations. The study will apply new metrics, including reduced quality of life and other costs, to document the severity of second-hand impacts of alcohol. By studying comprehensively how individual, social, and economic influences, as well as national alcohol policies, may affect heavy drinkers’ harms to families, friends, and strangers, the research will inform prevention planning and generate data to help gauge alcohol policy effects on these harms in varying cultural contexts.

California Reducing Disparities Project

Phase II: Asian and Pacific Islander Technical Assistance Provider: Special Service for Groups

The California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP) is a statewide prevention and early intervention effort to achieve mental health equity for populations most affected by disparities —African Americans; Asian and Pacific Islanders (API); Latinos; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ); and Native American/Alaska Native. The goal of Phase 2 is to demonstrate the effectiveness of “Community Defined Evidence Practices” (CDEPs) in preventing or reducing mental health problems through a rigorous community-participatory evaluation process over the 5-year period.

As the Technical Assistance Provider for the API population, we provide ongoing and culturally-responsive consultation, training, and capacity-building for the 7 API Implementation Pilot Projects (IPPs) throughout California. We ground our TA services through a strength-based, peer-learning, and community-driven approach. CRDP is funded by Proposition 64, the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). 

Community Impact on Adoption of Sober Living Houses

This study combined quantitative and qualitative methodologies to understand community influences on the adoption of the promising innovation of sober living houses. Particular focus was on one community where it was successfully established. Translating promising interventions into community services requires demonstrating positive outcomes and consideration of the knowledge, attitudes and perceived barriers for various stakeholders.

Cross-National Analysis of Alcohol & Injury

This project continues the analysis of data from the 12-site World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborative Study on Alcohol and Injuries and the 33-site Emergency Room Collaborative Alcohol Analysis Project. Analysis will explore the association of alcohol and injury with contextual variables and gaps in this research identified at a WHO-sponsored international conference on alcohol and injury.

Drinking Patterns & Ethnicity: Impact on Mortality Risks

This project conducts a secondary analysis of existing data to enhance understanding of patterns of alcohol consumption and the epidemiology of alcohol-related problems and mortality. Objectives include addressing risk and protective factors in the U.S. population and in white, black and Hispanic subpopulations of both genders.

Effect of Marriage Recognition and Substance Abuse and Health for Women

This study will used a mixed methods design to develop and test novel measures for assessing factors that underlie the impact of marriage recognition on sexual minority women (SMW, including lesbian, bisexual and other women who do not identify as exclusively heterosexual). ARG will merge data from the new measures with previously collected data, from a large sample of sexual minority women which include rich demographic, risk and resiliency data from participants. Merged data will be used to examine associations between marriage recognition and hazardous drinking, depression, and poor general health, with specific focus on racial/ethnic differences.

Effects of Disadvantage and Protective Resources on Alcohol-Related Disparities

The primary objective of this study is to describe and explain racial disparities in both heavy drinking and alcohol problems at equivalent levels of consumption. The conceptual approach recognizes that racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. are differentially exposed to economic, social and neighborhood disadvantages, and draws on recent theoretical work suggesting that cumulative exposure to disadvantage may play a significant role in understanding health disparities.

Effects of Spirits Privatization on Alcohol Prices and Alcohol-Related Harms

This project will track implementation of regulations, revenues and prices and use state-representative surveys of Washington drinkers and residents to evaluate changes in drinking, purchasing, problems, attitudes and experiences following privatization and other subsequent changes. Results will inform debates on government control of alcohol sales, relevant to 18 remaining control states, and on the three-tier system and alcohol taxation relevant to all US states.

Epidemiology of Alcohol Problems/National Alcohol Research Center

The goal of the National Alcohol Research Center is to explore relationships between well-characterized drinking patterns and numerous highly specific problems, as well as to look at conditions such as drug taking, disability, poverty and access to services. The Alcohol Research Group addresses emerging topics that are crucial policy concerns such as interpersonal violence and health-related harms.

Epidemiology of Alcohol Problems: Alcohol-related Disparities

The grant supports four core components and three research projects that focus on addressing alcohol-related health disparities in order to identify and reduce the effects of economic or social disadvantage on public health outcomes. It also supports the National Alcohol Research Resources Core which enables researchers to conduct the National Alcohol Survey (NAS), a cross-sectional alcohol-epidemiological survey every five years and undergirds Center research projects.  With a future wave scheduled to begin in 2018, the NAS will celebrate forty years of monitoring our nation’s drinking patterns and its associated problems in various sub-populations.

Epidemiology of Drinking and Disorders among Mexican-Origin Adults in Border and Non-Border Contexts

This research aims to describe and explain alcohol use patterns and related problems among Mexican-origin adults living in three pairs of sister metropolitan areas at the Texas-Mexico border, plus, as a contrast, in one adjacent non-border metropolitan area on each side of the border.

Individual and Community Influences on Alcohol Use Disorders and Other Mental Health Behaviors in Mexican Americans

The objective of this project is to develop a multilevel, bio-psychosocial-ecological model of risk and protective factors for binge drinking, alcohol use disorders (AUDs), and other mental health behaviors (MHBs) in Mexican-American young adults. This is a collaborative project led by Dr. Cindy Ehlers at the Scripps Research Institute, in La Jolla, CA.

Interaction of Mental Health and Social Support on Drug Relapse in Recovery Homes

The study's findings will result in immediate, practical implications for over 500 sober living houses (SLHs) in California and 1,200 Oxford Houses in the U.S. The study will: track drug-dependent individuals' psychiatric symptoms; identify factors that moderate the influence of psychiatric symptoms; identify how trajectories of mental health symptoms among methamphetamine-dependent individuals differ from those dependent on other substances; and examine mental health symptoms of drug-dependent persons in the community rather than in formal treatment.

National Alcohol Research Center Statistical and Data Services Core (A Center Core Component)

The SDS Core provides biostatistical consulting, analysis, and data management support for the Center’s other core and research components and participates actively in Pilot Projects. The SDS Core also involves training activities to enhance statistical capacities of scientific staff at all levels.

The Core also undertakes data archiving and documentation of measures, to increase data value and access, as well as helping assure that appropriate analysis, database storage, and integrity procedures are followed. A series of statistical methodology seminars for staff will increase sophistication in using newer techniques. Experience with cutting-edge statistical methodologies benefits all Center components and simultaneously helps train the next generation of alcohol researchers, improving their effectiveness.

Preparing a Computerized Tool for Preventing Prenatal Drinking for a Larger Trial

Heavy drinking by women of childbearing age increases risk for unplanned pregnancy, for drinking during pregnancy and for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in their infants. This research is studying a recently piloted, self-administered, computerized tool for reducing prenatal drinking that adds novel elements of drink size assessment and drink size feedback to traditional screening and brief intervention (SBI). Findings will help design a larger, rigorous trial of electronic SBI's efficacy for reducing prenatal alcohol use.


Racial Disparities in Access to Appropriate Alcohol Treatment Services

This study strives to identify gaps in the delivery of appropriate alcohol treatment services to racial/ethnic minority populations, and to better understand how disparities in access to appropriate care impact these groups' chances for recovery from alcohol problems. The project is based on secondary analyses of NIAAA's National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

Randomized Trial of Intensive MI to Improve Drinking Among Women

This study aims to improve drinking outcomes among women using a recently developed intensive model of motivational interviewing (IMI).  Unlike standard motivational interviewing (MI), which typically consists of 1–2 sessions at the beginning of treatment, IMI consists of 9 sessions delivered concurrently with standard outpatient treatment.


Statistical and Data Services

The Alcohol Research Group’s Statistical and Data Services (SDS) Department includes three statisticians supported by research assistants versed in statistical programming. The SDS Department brings capabilities in multivariate analysis and analytical packages such as SPSS, Stata, HLM, MLwiN, Mplus, R, S-Plus, ESRI’s ArcGIS, and others, along with an information specialist responsible for data entry and cleaning and variable construction. In addition, the Department director, with advanced degrees in statistics and epidemiology, and the other SDS statisticians, are available to all research projects for assistance, consulting and individual or group training via a statistics forum in the use of appropriate statistical procedures and the in-house analysis capabilities.

Here's How We're Making a Difference

Addiction Recovery Residences to Improve Health Outcomes in High-Risk Men

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are at increased risk for substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and other adverse health conditions. Addiction recovery residences are an effective intervention, but the unique experiences of sexual minorities in these settings was previously under-researched. To address this gap in the literature, ARG's two-year research study in Austin, Texas, aimed to: Examine the components of a recovery residence serving MSM and understand how differed from general recovery residencies; and to identify the barriers or opportunities to opening and operating recovery residences for MSM and members of the LGBT community.

This study found that MSM-specific recovery housing is not only important, the care provided can lead to better long-term health outcomes for patients. The findings also highlighted the importance of creating organizational infrastructure and to support LGBT-specific recovery residences and members of the LGBT community who live there.


Advancing 50+ Years of Research with PHI's Alcohol Research Group

Founded over fifty years ago, PHI's Alcohol Research Group (ARG) is a multidisciplinary research center whose focus is to conduct research on alcohol use patterns and associated problems and dissemination of research findings. Their research team is comprised of epidemiologists, psychologists, economists and researchers in other disciplines.

In 2015, ARG published nearly 50 research articles, including one study that found privatization of liquor sales in Washington state resulted in substantially higher prices to consumers on average. ARG's Alcohol Research Center was also redesignated as a PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center on Alcohol Epidemiology and Injury through September 2019. 

Assessing Familial Risk for Alcohol Use Disorders

Is it possible to identify clinical and historical features of Alcohol Use Disorder that reflect familial risk? Using longitudinal population data from Sweden, PHI’s Alcohol Research Group collaborated with researchers from across the world to assess the effects of alcohol exposure to risk factors in the neighborhood environment, peer context and family system. Within the sample, they found a number of factors which strongly predicted the risk for Alcohol Use Disorder in relatives: age at first registration, number of registrations, recurrence and history of drug abuse.

Researching the Interaction of Mental Health and Social Support on Drug Relapse in Recovery Homes

Sober living houses (SLHs) offer an alcohol- and drug-free living environment to people with substance use disorders, and are becoming increasingly important as the addiction field continues to emphasize long-term services in communities that can facilitate sustained recovery over time.

A study led by PHI's Alcohol Research Group, “An Evaluation of Sober Living Houses,” found that people who entered SLHs who were homeless or in unstable living arrangements improved their housing status over 18 months, and also showed improvement in psychiatric health. Housing status and psychiatric problems each independently predicted substance abuse outcomes. Social support also predicted better substance abuse outcomes for the entire sample—but it had the strongest, most consistent impact on persons with lower levels of psychiatric symptoms.

Training the Next Generation of Alcohol Researchers

In collaboration with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, the National Alcohol Research Center at PHI’s Alcohol Research Group accepts 6-8 trainees annually to the Graduate Research Training on Alcohol Problems program.

With a diverse, multidisciplinary training faculty, the program trains the next generation of researchers in cutting-edge methods for studying the social epidemiology of alcohol and other drug problems, and related health services. Since its inception in 1971, hundreds of former participants have moved on to help advance the field through careers in academia, government and free-standing research institutes.

Uncovering Marijuana Usage Trends in the US

PHI's Alcohol Research Group, which has conducted several studies in recent years on marijuana use, published new research in 2017 finding a sharp increase in marijuana use in the U.S., particularly among women, whose rate of use has doubled since 1984. The researchers concluded that the higher usage rates are a reflection of society becoming more tolerant and accepting of marijuana use, rather than a direct result of medicinal or recreational marijuana legalization.

Learn more about the study.


Uncovering New Alcohol Use Harms—& Opportunities to Decrease Them

Each year, one in five U.S. adults—an estimated 53 million people—experience harm because of someone else’s drinking, according to a study released this year by PHI’s Alcohol Research Group. Women were more likely to report financial and family problems, while men were more likely to report ruined property, vandalism, and physical aggression. A related study, also released by the Alcohol Research Group, found that states with stronger alcohol-related policies had 16% fewer aggression-related or driving-related harms. Learn more.