Wake Forest gets grant to research alcohol addiction

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It's been one year and eight months since Holly Mills had her last drink.

And since then, life's been good.

“Overall, there's very little to complain about,” Mills said. “I feel very blessed.”

For six long years, the 25-year-old battled with alcoholism.

“I started drinking in the morning,” Mills said.  “I started drinking on lunch breaks. I would drink beers in my car."

It’s an addiction she hid pretty well, ironically while working at Full Life Counseling and Recovery Center where her mother is a counselor.

“I had a lot of shame about what was going on,” she said.

She found out later she has a gene that predisposes her to alcohol abuse, a gene which runs in her family.

“The only way I could have avoided it was never picking up a substance in my entire life,” Mills said.

It's one of the many causes of alcoholism which will be examined at a new research center for alcohol addiction.

This week, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center announced it got an $8 million grant from the National Institute of Health for the project.

"We'll be able to come up with more effective treatments and also to diagnose people early on," said Dr. Jeff Weiner, director of the center.

Weiner says they'll use brain imaging to find out why some people are more likely to become alcoholics than others.

"We're studying people who are heavy drinkers but sort of not diagnosed as alcoholics yet," he said.

Weiner says most treatments for alcohol abuse don't work.

"If we can get to them 10, 20 years earlier before they've really been abusing the drug for a long time, I think we'll have a much better chance of treating them," Weiner said.

Mills hopes the research will lead more people down the path of sobriety that's changed her life.

“We have to help people get better,” she said. ​