National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) is a premier research institution in Australia and is recognised internationally as a Research Centre of Excellence. The Centre currently has just over $71 million in competitive grants, Government funding, academic awards and fellowships The overall mission of the Centre is to conduct high quality research and  related activities to increase the effectiveness of prevention, treatment and other intervention responses to alcohol and other drug related harm in Australia and internationally.

In June 2012 the Australian Government announced that NDARC would lead a research collaboration of three centres of research excellence along with the  National Drug Research Institute (Curtin university), and the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (Flinders University) with funding provided under the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants.

In August this year NDARC was successful in the NHMRC Centres of Research Excellence funding round and will receive $2.5 million over the next five years to establish a world first Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use: Translating Innovative Prevention and Treatment (see box for more details).

The Centre is fast growing, with 37 academic staff, 56 research staff including 11 enrolled PhD students, two off-site PhD students, 19 support staff and 14 conjoint and visiting academics.  NDARC’s wide range of academic and technical expertise includes: public health; epidemiology, psychology, biostatistical analysis, economics, criminology and policy analysis.

The major research priorities for NDARC are:

  • Treatment and other interventions;
  • Patterns of alcohol and drug use and related harms;
  • Prevention and early intervention;
  • Drug market analysis and drug policy.

As well we have significant programs in:

  • Criminal justice system;
  • Health economics;
  • Indigenous communities;
  • Global health.



NDARC collaborates with other departments and research centres within the UNSW Faculty of Medicine, schools within UNSW, including psychology and social work, and a range of universities, institutes and individuals. Its overseas collaborators include the World Health Organization(WHO), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC), the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS(UNAIDS), European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).


Patterns of drug use and related harms

Current projects that involve the study of the distribution and determinants of substance use include the assessment of the magnitude and outcomes of alcohol and other drugs in pregnancy; identification of the health and psychological consequences of ecstasy use; and using epidemiology  to develop models of the typology of mental disorders in order to better inform psychiatric disease classification.


Significant projects that examine the patterns and indicators of the health, psychosocial and economic harms associated with alcohol and drug use include:

  • The POINT study – pain and opioids in treatment study. This study will follow over 24 months a cohort of 2,000 patients newly prescribed pharmaceutical opioids;
    • a longitudinal birth cohort study of 2,000 families examining the impact of parental substance use, particularly alcohol, on infant development and family functioning;
    • the parental supply of alcohol study which will investigate the influence on teenagers’ long term drinking trajectories;


Key ongoing programs under the auspices of NDARC’s Drug Trends Team include the National Illicit Drug Indicators Project (NIDIP) that is investigating trends over time in drug-related harms of both illicit and prescription drugs. This complements the national drug monitoring programs that are co-ordinated by NDARC: the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) and the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS).


The Cannabis Research Consortium involves partners in capacity building activities to facilitate research investigating the relationship between cannabis use, dependence, and mental health and associated outcomes in adolescence and young adulthood.


Prevention and early intervention

This year NDARC commenced a major NHMRC funded smoking prevention trial aimed at reducing smoking in the socio-economically disadvantaged groups that have been significantly under-represented in the national declines in smoking rates over the past few years. This innovative project involves a randomised controlled trial comparing cessation rates between low SES smokers who receive the standard intervention comprising subsidised nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) with a Quitline call-back with those who receive subsidised NRT and Quitline call-back plus financial counselling.

This year the Centre completed recruitment for a five year NHMRC- funded trial, the CAP trial, aimed at preventing the development of alcohol and drug related problems among Australian adolescents. The program will assess the effectiveness of combining universal schools based drug and alcohol prevention programs, which have been effectively developed and evaluated under the CLIMATE schools program, with an innovative UK - developed targeted intervention. The targeted programs tailor interventions to different personality types  - anxiety sensitivity, negative thinking, sensation seeking and impulsivity. More than 2,000 students from school in NSW have been recruited.


Treatment and other intervention

Increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of alcohol and other drug programs is a key component of NDARC’s research strategy. These studies develop and evaluate interventions including harm reduction programs, maintenance and other pharmacotherapies, withdrawal management, psychological interventions and long- term abstinence-oriented residential programs.

The Centre has been a major contributor the growing literature and evaluation of treatment interventions in comorbid mental health and substance use. This year it received funding to lead a multi-centre $2.5 million Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) on mental health adn substance use (see box 1)

Increasingly the Centre is building up its capacity in the development, delivery and assessment of internet-based interventions for drug and alcohol treatment. E-health applications have grown dramatically over the past decade, with coverage across the major disease categories, including addictions.  Typically, these approaches have been applied to people experiencing mild-moderate problems with alcohol/other drug use. However our research has indicated that internet-based treatment can be applied with equal success to people with alcohol/other drug use disorders, including dependence, and with severe comorbidities such as depression. 

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) is also running a number of web-based programs for cannabis use.


Drug policy

A major part of the overall mission of NDARC is to provide an evidence base to support Australia’s drug policy and a specific program at NDARC - the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP) - has been established to create valuable new drug policy insights, ideas and interventions. DPMP explores dynamic interactions between law enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction. It also integrates research and policy practice, examines national, state and local levels of policy making, and uses new methods and tools. Current DPMP projects include: assessment of the relative cost effectiveness of different types of law enforcement interventions directed towards methamphetamine; assessment of the economic consequences of cannabis policy options; socio-demographics and drug use; the impact o alcohol pricing on young peoples’ drinking patterns and consumption of illicit drugs; public opinion, the media and illicit drugs policy.


Dissemination and Training

NDARC researchers have a strong record of contribution to scientific journals and other publications. As well, a central component of NDARC’s role is the dissemination of information and the results of evidence based research and reviews. Key activities supporting this includes special conferences and educational workshops, a comprehensive media communications strategy, which incorporates mainstream media as well as new

media and online communications, and an Annual Research Symposium. NDARC produces its own Research Monographs and Technical Report Series. NDARC produces a quarterly newsletter, CentreLines - in conjunction with NDRI - that is circulated to national research centres and other researchers and workers in the alcohol and other drugs field.