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Research raises concerns over relationship between major US alcohol research institution and the alcohol industry

Posted on 22 February 2023

A new study has uncovered extensive interactions between one of the world’s leading funders of alcohol research and alcohol industry groups, sparking concern about the industry’s influence on science and public health policy.

Professor Jim McCambridgeChair in Addictive Behaviours and Public Health at the University of York and Dr Gemma Mitchell, from the University of Stirling, analysed close to 5,000 pages of email correspondence, obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. 

The correspondence was sent between 43 staff members of the U.S National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and representatives of 15 alcohol industry groups – including producers and trade associations – between 2013 and 2020.


The analysis identifies 12 leaders at the NIAAA, including both current and former staff, and five key contacts in the alcohol industry. The latter include representatives from two alcohol producers (AB InBev and Diageo), two trade associations (the Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States [DISCUS]), and the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD).

Professor McCambridge said: “The depth of the relationships between NIAAA senior leaders and key alcohol industry contacts uncovered here is disturbing. The study findings provide examples of alcohol public health science being opposed rather than championed by NIAAA leaders, at least in their direct communications with industry.”

The new study, which is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, raises the problem of the “revolving door”, with some NIAAA leaders subsequently moving on to work for industry. 


The research team used publicly available data whenever possible to confirm any information contained in the emails and say their findings add to other recent studies that identify the long-term effects of industry influence on alcohol science.

Dr Mitchell said: “Ongoing relationships between NIAAA leaders and the alcohol industry meant that industry representatives could access privileged information on a wide range of topics, from the US Dietary Guidelines to alcohol and cancer.

“Our findings are hugely concerning, and we hope the NIAAA and the National Institute of Health (NIH) will regard this report not as presenting a public relations challenge to be managed, but as posing a set of major scientific challenges to which it must rise.”