Background, Theme, Research Focus, and Philosophy


The Charleston Alcohol Research Center (ARC) was first established at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) as a NIH/NIAAA-funded P50 Center in 1995. Since then, it has received continual support and was recently renewed for another 5-year funding period (2021-2025). Throughout its history, the Charleston ARC has maintained three distinct features – embracing multidisciplinary, integrative, and translationally-oriented research efforts focused on a common research theme. Key to its sustained success, the Charleston ARC has a tradition of bringing together basic researchers and clinical investigators working in a cooperative manner to address contemporary alcohol-related research. The ARC provides crucial infrastructure that facilitates bi-directional communication among investigators from varied backgrounds and disciplines, leading to creative, coordinated, and cohesive preclinical and clinical research efforts centered on a common alcohol research theme.

Overall Theme

Since its inception, the overarching research theme of the Charleston ARC has been treatment and treatment implications for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Preclinical and clinical research efforts aim to understand how heavy alcohol use/misuse produces changes in brain systems that influence motivational and decision-making processes that lead to heavy uncontrolled drinking and increased vulnerability to relapse. Understanding how frequent, excessive alcohol drinking leads to alterations in brain function is critical for advancing development of new and novel treatment strategies that reduce risk of relapse and enhance the ability to re-gain control over drinking.

Research Focus

Current research efforts are focused on elucidating neuroadaptations that mediate and/or promote transition from social, moderate drinking to excessive alcohol consumption. Multidisciplinary and innovative approaches are employed to probe mechanisms underlying changes in brain cortical systems that contribute to enhanced alcohol salience and brain reactivity as well as cortical adaptations that restrict behavioral flexibility, weaken cognitive control, and drive compulsive, habit-like alcohol-seeking and drinking behaviors.

  • Basic research projects use sophisticated cellular and molecular biology techniques to examine how chronic alcohol exposure alters functional activity of cell subpopulations within cortical regions and their projections that are relevant to behavioral control and motivational effects of alcohol.
  • Clinical projects employ sophisticated neuroimaging techniques to focus on similar cortical areas and projections in evaluating the ability of different treatment modalities (pharmacological and non-pharmacological) to alter relevant circuitry and reduce alcohol cue-induced brain activation, craving, and drinking.

Research conducted in the Charleston ARC focuses mainly on the addressing the following questions:

  • How does drinking become more habit-like and compulsive
  • How does drinking alcohol come to be more preferred than other activities and rewards
  • How does frequent and heavy alcohol use result in a chronic negative emotional state
  • How does chronic alcohol use compromise executive function and reduce capability to control drinking?

The common underlying premise of all research projects in the Center is that progression of alcohol addiction is characterized by adaptations in brain cortical circuits and processes that contribute to enhanced alcohol reward salience as well as impaired executive (cognitive) function that results in excessive, compulsive-like drinking. Collectively, research efforts in the Center reflect the multidisciplinary, integrative, and translational nature of the Center, capitalizing on diverse contemporary experimental approaches to address a common research focus and overall theme of the ARC.

Center Philosophy

Our Center philosophy is that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a brain disorder, having a biological basis with neuroanatomical, neurochemical, genetic, and behavioral underpinnings. The Center’s motto, "focused on treatment through research" reflects our general belief that significant advancements in the field can best be realized by coordinated and integrated research efforts in both preclinical and clinical investigatory domains. In this vein, the Center fosters a collaborative research environment that facilitates bi-directional communication and coordination between basic research and clinical investigations. The overall goal is to coordinate and enhance research efforts that lead to the development of new and more effective treatments for those suffering with alcohol use disorder.