Learn more about the National Alcohol Research Center and other studies conducted at ARG. ARG's research emphasizes epidemiology of alcohol consumption and problems, including health services research and community responses, to inform public health practice and alcohol policy.

Center & Other Research

National Alcohol Research Center: Epidemiology of Alcohol Problems

The Center at the Alcohol Research Group (ARG) of the Public Health Institute involves 15 psychologists, economists, biostatisticians, epidemiologists and other public health specialists studying the bio-psycho-social determinants of addictive processes involving alcohol and other drugs. For over three decades, the Center’s research has been supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) via Center Grant P50 AA005595, funded through 2015. Our offices are located on the Emeryville waterfront close to the UC Berkeley campus.

Research Program

The Center studies heavy drinking over the life course and its risk factors both in general populations and specific subgroups. We examine race, ethnicity and socio-economic disadvantage to better understand health disparities. Our studies pay close attention to life course and environmental influences (like early and current economic disadvantage or victimization, neighborhood characteristics, and state policies promoting or restraining heavy drinking). In new ways, we model how trends can be analyzed by age (maturation), period (secular shifts) and birth cohort (generational culture surrounding drinking initiation).

The backbone of the Center is its National Alcohol Survey is a series with highly comparable, cross-sectional US adult data collected every 5 years. We explore relationships between drinking patterns and highly specific problems, as well as risk and protective factors such as drug taking, disability, poverty, resilience and access to services. We address new topics that are emerging as crucial alcohol policy concerns, e.g., interpersonal violence, the economic recession and alcohol’s harm to others. To learn more about the components of the National Alcohol Survey, click here.

Health services epidemiology is an important aspect of our research. We continually test, improve, and adopt innovative techniques, and plan critically needed methodological studies to fill gaps in knowledge.

Training and Enrichment

The Center is enriched by its linkages with many research centers and universities, and national and international organizations. Under the aegis of the UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, ARG also houses a highly successful NIAAA T32 Training Program in Alcohol Epidemiology for a diverse and multi-disciplinary group of pre- and post-doctoral fellows, who are mentored by our faculty. We also pilot new approaches and continue to make discoveries in population epidemiology and services research that benefit the alcohol and public health fields and the Nation. To learn more about the training program, click here.

1. Administrative Core (Tom Greenfield, Director)

The Administrative Core is responsible for the overall management and coordination of the Center as a whole.  In addition to the director, the Center’s senior leaders include its two Associate Directors, Dr. Cheryl Cherpitel and Lee Ann Kaskutas.  Dr. Kaskutas serves as the Center’s Director of Training and is also PI of the T32 Training grant described above; Dr. Cherpitel has broad responsibilities for encouraging and supporting collaborative research partnerships with other centers and research organizations including university-based and independent research organizations offering compatible and complementary expertise and disciplines. Also housed in the core is an enrichment speakers program led by Dr. Sarah Zemore.  This program brings nationally and internationally renowned scientists to ARG to present their new research and to meet with staff and fellows on common interests.  In addition to the Administrative Core, there are two Scientific Cores, three Research Components and a Pilot Studies component, as follows:

2. Statistical and Data Services Infrastructure Core (Jason Bond, Component Director)

The Center’s determination to adopt the most effective cutting-edge techniques led to the development of this Core supported in the current grant. This core project plays a crucial role in the Center by intensifying, coordinating and focusing statistical and analytic functions, needed by all components, and by developing new statistical techniques needed for our analyses.  The Core is under the leadership of a dynamic Senior Biostatistician, Dr. Jason Bond, who’s doctorate in Statistics was from UCLA, aided by a supporting biostatistician, Yu Ye and by Dr. Tam, who trained with Bengt Muthén and is noted for her structural equation modeling skills.  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.

3. Core Component - National Alcohol Surveys (NAS) (Tom Greenfield, Component Director)

The Core Component forms a backbone core activity that generates, manages and provides needed NAS datasets to 3 Center research components (4, 5 and 6) 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’s N6.  Tasks involve geocoding the 2010 NAS (the 2000 and 2005 NAS datasets has already been geocoded) and merging the 2010 data with earlier NAS datasets from 1979, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005.  Between 2013 and 1015 the Center’s NAS Core will conduct a new National Alcohol Survey (N13) using a skilled fieldwork organization.  The 2010 NAS (N12) included for the first time a dual-frame landline – cell phone sample.  N13 is planned to include design refinements such as dual-frame cell phone and landline sampling, measurement improvements   plus, as earlier, African American and Hispanic oversamples.  Development and piloting begins in 2013, fielding in 2014, with completion by early 2015.  The Core prepares datasets for investigators (working closely with Statistics and data Services Core 2 biostatisticians), NAS datasets for analysis in the Center’s research components, affiliated independent grants, and by other researchers.  Results from the current Methodological Studies and items on drink size and beverage type will be used to improve alcohol intake precision, and needed psychometric analyses are undertaken.  Geo-referenced contextual variables will be added from the Census Bureau and other sources.  Using the proposed Methodology Component 6 Sub-Study 1 results, we will introduce new post-stratification weights to improve estimates from analyses for Landline-Only samples, including earlier ones like the 2005 N11. This US adult household series is vital for long-term monitoring of the nation's drinking patterns and problems, and for conducting innovative new analyses to address key epidemiological hypotheses.  The NAS is a major resource for public health science and to analyze policy, prevention and health care impacts.

4. Epidemiological Analysis of the National Alcohol Survey (William Kerr, Component Director)

This new project, building on earlier NAS analyses, analyzes the current 2010 NAS (N12) and 5 previous NAS surveys from 1979 to 2005, and in 2015 will add the proposed N13 data.  Analyses capitalize on unique strengths of the NAS survey series with many key variables measured cross-sectionally at 5-year intervals over the past 30 years.  From the 2000 on, the NAS Resources Core will provide neighborhood and county-level geo-referencing that captures environmental measures of alcohol availability, local drinking culture and socioeconomic conditions, which brings a fresh perspective to our analyses aims by locating respondents within a particular geographic setting. Together with the life-course drinking and other risk factors, the inclusion of the environmental variables will add considerable depth to our plans to model problem outcomes.  We will be undertaking new age-period-cohort (APC) modeling to better understand the underlying components of long-term and recent trends.  All analyses also benefit from greater measuremnt precision (see Component 3, above).  A series of aims test hypotheses to advance the epidemiology and etiology of a broad range of alcohol-related problems including alcohol dependence, drunk driving, accidents and injuries, and family, work, health and legal consequences of heavy drinking. Other analyses will evaluate the determinants of externalities related to others' drinking including violence victimization, family problems and vandalism, and will investigate health care utilization by individuals with alcohol use disorders. Finally, analyses of self-reported drunkenness and heavy drinking occasions will yield new knowledge of these important and inter-related measures and their relationship to outcomes such as impaired driving.  Analyses aim to fill a nuber of important research gaps in there areas.

5. Disparities in Alcohol Problems (Nina Mulia and Sarah Zemore, Component Co-directors)

Articulating with the before-mentioned components, this new component investigates how race/ethnicity and socioeconomic disadvantage (SED) are related to current and lifespan patterns of alcohol use and problems.  Critical gaps in knowledge will be addressed, with a special focus on how a severe economic recession may exacerbate drinking problems in already disadvantaged groups.  The data source is the 2010 NAS (N12), which provides valuable new data on exposure to recession-related economic hardships; indicators of childhood, adult, and chronic SED; fine-grained measures of alcohol outcomes; and oversamples of Blacks and Hispanics.  The first aim examines the unique and cumulative effects of race/ethnicity and SED on heavy drinking and alcohol problems, including heavy drinking over the lifespan, involving risk curve analyses and latent class analysis to examine trajectories of heavy drinking from one’s teens to the present.  The second investigates whether the effects of race/ethnicity and SED on heavy drinking and alcohol problems are exacerbated during an economic recession, due to increased exposure and vulnerability to severe hardship.  Analyses will involve propensity score matching, and NAS-series trend analyses to assess changes in the magnitude of alcohol-problem disparities. Last, a stress process model is tested to reveal protective factors that may buffer the adverse effects of disadvantage.  Findings will help to inform efforts to reduce alcohol-related disparities by identifying particularly acute forms of disadvantage, protective factors that mitigate their impact, and high-priority populations that need to be reached during an economic recession.

6. Methodologies for Improving Measurement of Alcohol Use and Problems (Cheryl Cherpitel, Component Director; sub-project leaders Greenfield, Cherpitel and Nayak)

This component continues Center research to improve precision of alcohol measurement, make innovations in research design and measures for clinical populations.  To accomplish this we are undertaking three new methodological sub-studies.  One sub-study (Dr. Greenfield) harnesses data from the NAS Core’s Cell-phone and Landline samples. The cell-only population is projected to comprise 30% of the U.S. population by 2015, so that reaching individuals in such households is crucial to securing nationally representative samples. Results will inform the alcohol field and optimize future national surveys.  Addressing NIAAA priorities of research on special populations, the second sub-study (Dr. Cherpitel) analyzes biases from case-crossover studies on the relative risk of injury and alcohol and alcohol-attributable fraction in cross-national emergency room studies.  It applies new and innovative methods towards AAF estimation and modifications that have not previously explored cross-nationally.  Findings will improve research design and have domestic and international impact on global burden of disease estimates.  The third sub-study (Dr. Nayak) examines variability in item functioning of the AUDIT, a widely used alcohol use disorder screening tool; it addresses the NIAAA research priority of better understanding differential reliability and validity of AUD diagnoses among demographic, ethnic, and cultural subgroups, and it investigates influences of drinking culture and gender inequity on screening to mitigate biases in the scale.  Findings will inform clinical and research guidelines for important subgroups.

7. Pilot Studies (Lee Ann Kaskutas, Component Director; initial pilot studies led by Karriker-Jaffe and Nayak)

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. Pilots proposed are a mix of epidemiologic and health services studies. Management of the pilot component will be supported by this Core’s Management Group, in a role parallel to that of the faculty on the T32, with 4 members overlapping on both committees. We have learned that close supervision and attention to early challenges is crucial.  As with previous pilot projects in earlier Center cycles, we anticipate that results from these pilots will help earl-stage careers, open up innovative lines of research and yield key preliminary results.  In years 1-2 of the current Center period, we are fielding two 2-year pilot projects: Improving Measures of Alcohol Dependence for General Population Studies (Dr. Kate Karriker Jaffe, director); and Kiosk-based Prenatal Screening and Intervention for Nutrition and Drinking. (Dr. Madhabika Nayak, director).  Dr. Karriker-Jaffe’s study will examine measures of alcohol dependence included in the Alcohol Research Group’s (ARG) National Alcohol Survey (NAS) series, based on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-4th Edition (DSM-IV), in order to determine whether follow-up probes assessing symptom frequency, severity and impact improve validity of dependence classification for young heavy drinkers.   Dr. Nayak’s project, also involving Kaiser Permanente Division of Research scientist Dr. Lyndsay Amon Avalos, will develop and implement a self-administered computer-based screening and intervention program for alcohol and nutrition risks, in a busy public prenatal health care clinic.  This will develop and test a kiosk-based self-guided computer-administered intervention that does not require administration by a health care provider.

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Alcohol Research Group
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