For 25 years, this long-term study has yielded valuable information about the causes of substance abuse, by following a large group of individuals and their families from early childhood through adolescence and adulthood. It has looked at the impacts that alcoholism and other drug use, poverty and educational disadvantage have on individuals and families, and the capacity of some children to be resilient in the face of these issues.
The MLS is the world's longest-running study on the development of substance abuse, and involves more than 2,200 individuals in over 460 families. Recently, the study yielded the first-ever evidence that specific indicators in early childhood can predict an adult's likelihood of being diagnosed with alcoholism -- a finding that is only possible because the study has tracked the life course of a generation of children, including children of alcoholics, and a comparison group from families without a history of alcoholism. A third generation is now being studied: the children of the people who were small children when the study began.
The study is led by Robert Zucker, Ph.D., director of the U-M Addiction Research Center, and it involves collaborations with scientists at Brown University, Idaho State University, Michigan State University, Oregon Health and Science University and the University of North Carolina. It has been funded continuously since 1987 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health. With an annual budget of $2.5 million, it involves more than a dozen scientists, a dozen graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and around 50 staff members. The U-M portion of the team includes members of the U-M Department of Psychiatry and its Addiction Research Center, the U-M Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, and the U-M departments of Statistics and of Human Genetics. The MLS is assessing the many factors that contribute to the origin of alcohol abuse and dependence, of mental health issues and other substance-abuse issues in people with alcohol problems, and of behavior issues within children of alcoholics. It uses genetic, brain-imaging, behavioral, social, demographic and economic assessments, and has led to many important research articles. Its findings have helped shape the growing realization that alcoholism is a developmental disorder that has its roots in early childhood, and that efforts to combat alcoholism and other substance abuse in the community should focus on prevention among at-risk youth before problems emerge.