About the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) is recognised internationally as a Research Centre of Excellence. Its mission is to conduct and disseminate high quality research and related activities that increases the effectiveness of treatment and other intervention responses to alcohol and other drug related harm.
The Centre was established at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in May 1986 and officially opened in November 1987. It is funded by the Australian government as part of its National Drug Strategy. Mental health and substance use disorders account for more years of life lost due to disability than any other disorders. These disorders often occur together (comorbidity), affecting more than 300,000 Australians every year.
The centre currently has a staff of 145 with more than 70 research programs focussing on early intervention, prevention, treatment and patterns and harms of drug use. Our key research disciplines are broadly behavioural sciences, population health, and epidemiology. The future of our field lies in collaborative networks across multiple disciplines – mental health, addiction, psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology, neurobiology, biostatistics and clinical trials – as proposed by the Mindgardens project. A sample of projects below demonstrate how our research will be further enhanced by co-location in a multi-disciplinary environment. As well NDARc provides access to large cohorts and data sets for other disciplines and schools within Mindgardens.
Key research projects
LONGITUDINAL COHORT STUDIES
We are running a number of longitudinal cohort studies involving between 2,000 and 20,000 participants which allow us to track the impact of substance and alcohol use over time and identify risk factors for abuse and dependence across wide range of covariates. This is pertinent within the MindGardens context as they provide existing cohorts on which to base other studies within other disciplines.
Some of our key longitudinal cohort studies:
Cannabis Cohort Research Consortium (CCRC)
NDARC coordinates the CCRC a multi-organisational and multidisciplinary international collaboration that brings together a number of the most mature longitudinal studies of child and adolescent development across Australia and New Zealand.
Advantages of the CCRC analytic process include: access to high-quality longitudinal studies that provide a rich pool of data across important developmental periods from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood; increased sample size and statistical power to investigate rarer exposures and outcomes; the potential to compare model parameters to establish which effects are universal versus cohort specific. The harmonised data set has been use dot look at cannabis effects across 20 variables and a new study will use the same pooled data to look at alcohol use.
Triple B study
This innovative Australian longitudinal birth cohort study is investigating the impact of parental substance use on infant development and family functioning.
It is examining a wide range of biopsychosocial factors that relate to the health and development of Australian children and families. Uniquely it looks at the impact of patterns’ substance use as well as mothers’ use. Funding is being sought to follow children to preschool and beyond.
Parental Supply of Alcohol Study
This study has followed 1,500 parent/child pairs for from year 7 to investigate the impact of parental supply on adolescent drinking trajectories.
There are plans to use the same cohort to better understand the public health burden of adolescent drinking. The RADAR study will interview these adolescents from around 16 years of age every six months for four years to derive monthly histories of both alcohol use and AUD symptomatology, along with a comprehensive battery of risk and protective factor scales hypothesised to predict the emergence and course of AUD.
COMORBID MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE USE
The collaborative Centre for Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use based at NDARC is running three trials involving 10,000 schoolchildren at the effective prevention and treatment of comorbid mental health and drug and alcohol use problems.
Internet-based prevention for anxiety, depression and substance use in young Australians
Anxiety, depressive and substance use disorders account for three quarters of the disability attributed to mental disorders and they are often comorbid, share common risk factors and interact. The peak of these disorders occurs in those aged 15-24 years old, which also corresponds with the typical period of onset. Interventions are typically designed to target a single disorder at once.
The current study aims to address this gap by evaluating an integrative approach known as the CLIMATE Schools Combined (CSC) intervention. The study is being run as a cluster randomised controlled trial involving 84 schools in Queensland , NSW and WA and involving 7,500 schoolchildren.
Targeting at risk personality types in drug and alcohol prevention programs
Ideally, preventive interventions should aim to delay onset in both adolescents with low-risk profiles who may be influenced to take up substances due to peer influence and social conformity, and adolescents with high-risk profiles whose underlying vulnerability to psychopathology can lead to substance misuse.
2,500 schoolchildren are involved in a randomised controlled trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness of combining “targeted’ school-based prevention programs aimed at risk personality types with a universal prevention program aimed at all schoolchildren in year 8 and 9. The proposed model, known as the CAP (Climate and Preventure) intervention.
Randomised clinical trial of internet-based treatment for binge drinking and depression in young Australians
Intervening early in the development of mood and alcohol use disorders is essential if we are to have any hope of modifying the disease burden of these conditions. Effective, relevant and engaging interventions for depressed mood and binge drinking in young people are urgently required.
This study addresses this important gap in evidence and service provision. It directly targets young people with comorbid depression and binge drinking behaviours and, for the first time, evaluate an internet-based psychological treatment program, augmented with peer-driven social networking. This program can easily be translated into primary care, clinical and real world settings for use by young people experiencing these conditions.
Champion for the Mindgardens project
Professor Michael Farrell
Professor Michael Farrell FRCP FRCPsych is the Director of NDARC. He moved to Sydney from London in March 2011 following his appointment to NDARC. Prior to joining NDARC he was Professor of Addiction Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His extensive research interests include treatment evaluation, including the development of the National Treatment Outcomes Profile, a brief outcomes measurement instrument for drug and alcohol dependence.
He has a long standing interest in drug dependence in prisons and within the wider criminal justice system. He has been a member of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug and Alcohol Dependence since 1995 and chaired the WHO External Evaluation of the Swiss Heroin Trial. Professor Farrell has chaired the Scientific Advisory Committee of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) from 2007 to the present.