Are there better clinical ways to treat alcohol addiction? The National Institutes of Health seem to think so and they’re giving nearly $30 million to an organization led by the University of Texas at Austin to prove it. The University itself will receive $8.5 million dollars to explore better pharmaceutical treatments of alcohol use disorder (AUD). The rest of the funds will be dispersed through other areas of what has been dubbed the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism-Neuroimmune consortium. This will be one of the most comprehensive research efforts in recent history regarding the treatment of alcohol abuse and addiction.
The consortium’s mission spans many areas of alcoholism research, not the least significant of which includes mapping the differences in gene expression between alcoholics and non-alcoholics’ brains. In 2014, Adron Harris, a neuroscience professor at UT Austin who also directs the Waggoner Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research found that, as a person becomes dependent on alcohol, thousands of genes in their brains are turned up or down, like a dimmer switch on a lightbulb, compared with the same genes in a healthy person’s brain. He and fellow scientists are now working to find drugs that can essentially reset the alcoholic brain to its original settings and turn it back to a non-alcoholic brain.
The consortium has actually been active since 2001, but moved its administrative core to the University of Texas’ Austin campus. The boost in funding is part of an overall effort from the National Institutes of Health to combat what has become one of the most pervasive addiction threats in the United States. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that over 17.6 million people suffer from alcohol use disorder. While opioid and marijuana addiction are the two most dominant drug threats, alcohol continues to be the most dominant addiction issue, overall.