Controversial "Moderate Drinking" Study Shut Down By Officials

By Beth Leipholtz 06/20/18

The news comes on the heels of Anheuser Busch's decision to pull millions in funding from the study. 

woman holding a glass of alcohol

A highly controversial National Institutes of Health study is no longer in the works, NIH director Francis Collins announced Friday, June 15. 

According to STAT News, Collins said the $100 million study would be shut down after a task force discovered “severe ethical and scientific lapses in the study’s planning and execution.” 

The study, which would examine the possible health benefits of consuming one daily drink, had been in the headlines after a New York Times investigation revealed that the federal agency had courted the alcohol industry for funding, leading to concerns that the results could be skewed.

Recently, Anheuser Busch decided to pull its own funding out of the study.

STAT News reported that the task force found that the manner in which the NIH funded the research “casts doubt” as to whether “the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable.”

The task force also found that beginning in 2013, “there was early and frequent engagement” between NIH officials and those in the alcohol industry. These communications, the task force stated, seemed to be “an attempt to persuade industry to support the project. Several members of NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) staff kept key facts hidden from other institute staff members.” 

Michael Siegel, public health scientist of Boston University, says the decision to end the study was the right one.

“NIAAA undermined its own scientific integrity by soliciting and accepting alcohol industry funding to study the health ‘benefits’ of alcohol,” he told STAT News.  

The study raised ethical concerns in part due to how it solicited its funding. The New York Times investigation revealed that in 2014, the scientists involved in the study went as far as to tell executives in the alcohol industry that the study “represents a unique opportunity to show that moderate alcohol consumption is safe and lowers risk of common diseases.”

The Times also reported that they told officials that the study would supply a “level of evidence [that] is necessary if alcohol is to be recommended as part of a healthy diet.”

Aside from ethical concerns, the study was also found to have other flaws. According to STAT News, the group looking into it found that it didn’t have enough patients and the follow-up time was not sufficient, meaning “the trial could show benefits while missing harms.” 

Before the study was shut down, 105 participants had enrolled and $4 million had already been spent. 

Dr. Kenneth Mukamal of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was to lead the study. In a statement, the medical center said it is “deeply committed to ensuring the scientific and ethical integrity of any research study involving our investigators.”

The statement also noted that Dr. Mukamal “is an experienced researcher who has led dozens of important studies over his career. We take the working group’s findings very seriously and will review the report carefully.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.