Turning great ideas into healthier communities


National Alcohol Research Center

The National Alcohol Research Center, which began in 1977, is housed within PHI's Alcohol Research Group and is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The Center's research focuses on the bio-psycho-social determinants of addictive processes involving alcohol and other drugs. The Center is directed by William C. Kerr, PhD, who provides scientific oversight while working with associate director Sarah E. Zemore, PhD, to assure coherence and scientific vision. 

Program Director(s)

William Kerr

Program Site

National Alcohol Research Center


Differential Effects of Alcohol-Related Policy Across U.S. Population Subgroups

It is known that broad, evidence-based public health interventions do not always benefit all segments of the population. In some cases, such interventions result in unintended consequences, creating even greater health disparities. While alcohol policy interventions are a vital tool for reducing excessive drinking and alcohol problems, they have not often been used to mitigate alcohol-related disparities. Focusing on important upstream and downstream policies that seek to transform the alcohol environment and access to treatment services, this research component aims to determine which policies are most and least effective for different populations. The resulting information will help policymakers weigh specific policy interventions and combinations of interventions to improve population health and reduce disparities.

Disparities in Alcohol-related Risks for Injury, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality

This project assesses the health disparities in major alcohol-related injuries and chronic conditions. Analysis of alcohol’s role in risks for these health issues among disparate populations will help our understanding of how to reduce alcohol-related disparities through policy, prevention efforts and treatment. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the National Alcohol Surveys (NAS) will be used to assess major causes of illness, injury, disability and death in areas of the US where significant alcohol-related racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities occur. Results will inform efforts to reduce health disparities through targeted and general policies and interventions aimed at reducing alcohol use and problems in disadvantaged populations.

Hotspots: Understanding Areas of Concentrated Alcohol and Drug Problems at the US-Mexico Border

With millions of Mexican Americans living in the extremely disadvantaged US-Mexico border region, their health and substance use are a critical concern. Even though this area experiences high drug trafficking, drug availability and substance use problems, very little is known about alcohol and drug use among its residents. This new study seeks to better characterize the distribution of alcohol use and problems, drug use and problems, and substance use treatment utilization across study sites and relative to regional and national estimates. Analyses will leverage a uniquely rich and well-powered dataset to extend the very limited knowledge base on alcohol and drug use and problems at the border, as well as improve understanding of environmental influences on these outcomes among Latino populations.

National Alcohol Research Center Administrative Core

The Administrative Core is responsible for the overall management and coordination of the National Alcohol Research Center as a whole. In addition to Director William C. Kerr, the Center’s senior leaders include Associate Director Sarah E. Zemore. Dr. Zemore serves as the Center’s Director of Training and is PI of the T32 Training grant. Dr. Zemore also leads the enrichment speakers’ program. This program brings nationally and internationally renowned scientists to present their new research and to meet with staff and fellows on common interests. She also assists Dr. Kerr in Center administrative duties.

National Alcohol Research Center Pilot Studies

The pilot studies program is designed to advance the Center’s research agenda and to generate independent grant applications, relevant to the Center’s focus on epidemiology of alcohol problems and services that respond to them and to national priorities for alcohol research. The component is designed to provide the Center with a flexible means to develop and explore new research activities or directions and to provide unique scientific opportunities for research ideas with the potential to evolve into independently-funded research projects. Preference has been and will be given to early-stage investigators and to projects that emerge from specific questions raised by Center or affiliated research.

National Alcohol Research Center Pilot Studies: Pilot 1: Dried Blood Spot Sampling in the National Alcohol Survey

This study will evaluate the acceptability and feasibility of using mail-in, self-administered Dried Blood Spot (saDBS) technology as a way of collecting blood samples from people who have participated in a national, telephone-based alcohol research survey. The study will determine the proportion of people willing to participate in a study involving saDBS among those contacted and eligible, and observe the proportion who complete and return viable saDBS kits. The study will stratify by race and gender and will test the received blood samples for immune proteins called cytokines that are associated with alcohol use and other mental health measures, including symptoms of depression and anxiety. An exploratory aim of this study is to determine associations between levels of cytokines in the blood, alcohol use, and mental health measures.

National Alcohol Research Center Pilot Studies: Pilot 2: Substance Use Treatment Among Sexual Minority Women

Large-scale, epidemiologic studies examining substance use treatment among sexual minorities are few and have been limited to assessing whether services were received, neglecting to gather important information on barriers to treatment and treatment experiences in this population. To begin to address this gap, this pilot study will identify reasons why sexual minorities with putative need for substance use treatment and describe how sexual minorities who meet criteria for lifetime alcohol dependence access substance abuse treatment and the nature of their experiences in it. Findings will be used to develop and investigate the feasibility of interventions to reduce barriers to substance use treatment and better tailor substance abuse treatment services to meet the needs of sexual minority clients in subsequent studies.

National Alcohol Research Center Pilot Studies: Pilot 3: Barriers to Specialty Substance Abuse Treatment among People... Disorders

Pilot Study 3: Barriers to Specialty Substance Abuse Treatment among People with Recent Substance Use Disorders

Miguel Pinedo, Pilot Director

This study will qualitatively examine barriers to specialty substance abuse treatment among Whites, African Americans, and Latinos with recent (i.e., past 5-year) substance abuse disorders (SUD). Specifically, this study aims to gain a greater understanding of treatment barriers by (1) race/ethnicity and (2) gender. Findings will serve as preliminary data to develop a theory-driven measure to better assess treatment barriers.

National Alcohol Research Center Pilot Studies: Pilot 4: A Pilot Study to Evaluate a Retrospective Dietary Assessment Tool

This study aims to use the Dietary Screener Questionnaire, which was developed by the National Cancer Center and assesses current diet, to develop a brief measure assessing both current and past diet (i.e., diet prior to diagnosis of an illness). An additional aim will be to test the validity and reliability of the adapted brief measure. As part of this project, questions intended to understand the circumstances under which dietary changes occurred and instructions to assist in recalling past diet will be developed and refined.

National Alcohol Research Center Pilot Studies: Pilot 5: Beyond the Ethnic Enclave: Establishing Co-Ethnic Neighborhood Effects... of Immigrants

Pilot Study 5: Beyond the ethnic enclave: Establishing Co-Ethnic Neighborhood Effects on Alcohol and Tobacco Use Across Developmental Periods for Children of Immigrants 

Christina Tam, Pilot Director

This exploratory, secondary analysis study investigates the role of coethnic neighborhoods (i.e., an area with a high concentration of the same ethnic group) on heavy episodic drinking (HED) and smoking status among Asian, Latino, and Black adolescents (ages 12-17) and emerging adults (EAs) (ages 18-29). Specifically, this study (1) tests effects of coethnic density, alone and in combination with population density and poverty, on HED and smoking, and (2) assess whether neighborhood differences in HED and smoking vary by age group (i.e., adolescents, EAs) and race (i.e., Asian, Latino, Black). Findings will generate preliminary data for a larger study to identify mechanisms for targeted prevention efforts in selected neighborhood areas.

National Alcohol Research Center Pilot Studies: Study 6: Measurement of Cannabis and Alcohol Co-Use

Currently, no validated instrument for measuring cannabis and alcohol co-use exists. This will be the first study to develop a co-use measurement instrument and to collect detailed co-use data from cannabis users in a legal recreational environment. The primary aims of this study are 1) to expand the DFAQ-CU to measure alcohol and cannabis co-use; 2) collect co-use, demographic, purchasing (and receipts), and cannabis and alcohol-related problems and harms data from 100 cannabis and alcohol users recruited from legal cannabis retail stores in California; and 3) provide descriptive data regarding co-use patterns. Pilot data will lead to a larger R01 focused on instrument validation and co-use typologies.

National Alcohol Research Center Statistical and Data Services

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 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.

National Alcohol Survey (NAS) Resources

The Core Component forms a backbone core activity that generates, manages and provides needed NAS datasets to three Center research components and to other independent investigators. The Center has conducted NAS surveys of the adult US population at about 5-year intervals since the 1960s, with standard measures and methods since 1979. This scientific core proposes to conduct an addition to the NAS series, a 2019/20 National Alcohol Survey (N14), with design refinements including dual-frame cell phone and landline sampling plus large African American and Hispanic oversamples—a key feature of these surveys for the Center’s health disparities theme. Additional lower cost data acquisition approaches such as web-panels will be considered to augment the data collection plan for the N14 survey. For the new population survey, instrument development and piloting will begin in 2018, fielding in 2019, with completion by early 2020.