The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) was founded 40 years ago to help elucidate the biological underpinnings of alcohol dependence, including the potential contribution of genetic factors. Twin, adoption, and family studies conclusively demonstrated that genetic factors account for 50 to 60 percent of the variance in risk for developing alcoholism. Case-control studies and linkage analyses have helped identify DNA variants that contribute to increased risk, and the NIAAA-sponsored Collaborative Studies on Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) has the expressed goal of identifying contributing genes using state-of-the-art genetic technologies. These efforts have ascertained several genes that may contribute to an increased risk of alcoholism, including certain variants encoding alcohol-metabolizing enzymes and neurotransmitter receptors. Genome-wide association studies allowing the analysis of millions of genetic markers located throughout the genome will enable discovery of further candidate genes. In addition to these human studies, genetic animal models of alcohol's effects and alcohol use have greatly advanced our understanding of the genetic basis of alcoholism, resulting in the identification of quantitative trait loci and allowing for targeted manipulation of candidate genes. Novel research approaches-for example, into epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation-also are under way and undoubtedly will further clarify the genetic basis of alcoholism.