Addictions Research Network

The Addictions Research Network comprises Western researchers with a range of disciplinary backgrounds including psychology, social work, criminology and public health:

The network aims to foster high quality research on critical substance use issues and psychosocial health comorbidities facing communities in the greater Western Sydney region. Our research is community driven and underpinned by significant partnerships with SWSLHD Drug Health Services, and a range of non-government organisations in South Western and Western Sydney. Please see a list of current projects below.

Our network also provides mentoring to emerging drug and alcohol researchers. If you are a researcher interested in joining our network please contact Dr Elizabeth Conroy.

Postgraduate students with a specific interest in substance use and gambling comorbidity are invited to contact Dr Conroy to discuss their suitability to apply for an Office of Responsible Gambling PhD Scholarship. The funding is up to $55,000 per year for three years per candidate and applications close 20/01/2021. Further information can be found on the ORG website (opens in a new window).

Drug Health Services Research Capacity Building Project

The research capacity building project is a two-year collaboration between WSU-THRI and SWSLHD Drug Health Services focused on building research capacity within Drug Health Services. The project has a number of components including a webinar series, mentoring program, and presentation skills workshop. It is aimed at SWSLHD Drug Health Services clinicians who are interested in becoming more involved in research, from those who want to contribute to an existing project through to those who want to lead their own project.

Further details regarding how to access the program and the schedule of events will be released in early 2021.

If you are a SWSLHD clinician and would like further information about this program please contact Prakash Poudel, Research Coordinator, SWSLHD Drug Health Services (

All other enquiries please contact Dr Elizabeth Conroy (

Assessing the needs of local youth to help guide drug and alcohol prevention strategies

  • Investigators: Dr Emily Deans (Youth Solutions), Assoc Prof Ilse Blignault (WSU School of Medicine/THRI), Dr Elizabeth Conroy (THRI), Assoc Prof Jioji Ravulo (Wollongong University)

This collaborative project aims to improve the currency & relevance of the drug prevention programmes delivered by Youth Solutions. There are three groups of young people that the project will target: young people involved in the juvenile justice system; young people involved in the homelessness support system; and young people in school. The project will involve qualitative interviews and focus groups with young people across these different settings and enquire about the substances that are currently causing concern among young people and the sociocultural factors that shape young people’s involvement in alcohol and other drugs.


Measurement of changes in alcohol and drug counsellors’ language and competency after implementation of Motivational Interviewing training

  • Investigators: Dr Rashid Flewellen (WSU School of Medicine/THRI), Dr Elizabeth Conroy (THRI), Ravina Raidu (SWSLHD Drug Health Services)

Many medical conditions and social determinants of health are known to have direct relationships with modifiable health behaviours. The management and prevention of heart disease, cancer, obesity and sexually transmitted infections necessitate conversations about behaviour change. Those conversations include behaviours such as smoking, diet, exercise, medication adherence, and substance use. Treatment interventions are most effective when driven by clinical practices that emphasise communication skills informed by mechanisms of behaviour change. From a training perspective, these mechanisms require extensive unpacking in order to adequately address the complex problems associated with AOD issues. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a collaborative, goal-oriented style of communication with a particular attention to the language of change. MI is one of few behaviour change interventions that specifically accounts for “clinician effects” in the clinical encounter. The aim of this project is to measure the impact of an MI training program on AOD counsellors’ clinical language and competencies. This measurement will identify mechanisms of behaviour change in order to improve clinician responses to complex problems in drug and alcohol treatment.


Comorbidity of Gambling Study (COGS)

  • Investigators: Dr Elizabeth Conroy (WSU THRI), Dr Ron Strauss (SWSLHD Drug Health Services), Christopher Mosses (SWSLHD Mental Health Services), Dr Rashid Flewellen (WSU SOM/THRI).

South Western Sydney (and Fairfield in particular) has one of the highest rates of gambling behaviour in NSW however screening and referral pathways to gambling support services are poorly articulated across SWSLHD facilities. Problem gambling has significant psychosocial impacts on both the person who gambles and their social network. It is highly comorbid with substance use and other mental disorder and has been linked to specific health problems (e.g. cardiac problems) and the use of some medications (e.g. anti-Parkinsonian drugs). Gambling comorbidity was identified as a research priority by the SWSLHD Drug Health Services at a collaborative research meeting between Drug Health Services and WSU THRI in 2018. Currently there are two focus areas for this program of research: a hospital prevalence study funded by the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling and an outpatients prevalence study currently in the pilot stage.

  1. Early Identification of Gambling Comorbidity in a Hospital Setting (2019-current, NSW Office of Responsible Gambling): This project aims to identify patients attending hospitals in SWSLHD who are at risk of problematic gaming or gambling in order to develop appropriate screening and referral pathways. This mixed methods study will involve a staff survey, staff interviews and a patient survey across 4 hospital sites in SWSLHD. Participants will be recruited from the Emergency Department, Psychiatric Emergency Care Centre, inpatient psychiatry, orthopaedics, cardiology, gastroenterology and general medical wards. Findings will be discussed with key staff from the different departments and the area programs for Drug and Alcohol and Mental Health in order to develop an appropriate implementation plan tailored to the individual hospital sites. It is hoped the project will deliver increased awareness of gambling and gaming problems among SWSLHD staff and a streamlined referral pathway to improve access to treatment and support services for SWSLHD residents experiencing problems with their gaming or gambling behaviour.
  2. Gambling comorbidity among a substance use treatment population (2019-current): While problem gambling is highly prevalent among adults with substance use disorder there has been little research examining the patterns of comorbidity among treatment populations in Australia. Given the entire alcohol and other drug treatment population is at high risk for gambling disorder, some researchers have suggested universal screening of this population. This project aims to explore patterns of gambling comorbidity among SWSLHD Drug Health Services clients to develop a more nuanced understanding of how the two disorders present in treatment and the most appropriate screening, referral and treatment pathways for clients presenting with both substance use and behavioural addictions.


Completed Research

The gambling bug project: Problem gambling in Indigenous communities during COVID-19

  • Researchers: Paul Saunders, Professor Aunty Kerrie Doyle

The Indigenous Health team at Western Sydney University have secured an Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious diseaSe Emergencies (APPRISE) First Nations-led research on COVID-19 grant to develop and evaluate a community-driven public health intervention based on the narratives of those with problem gambling behaviours within Indigenous communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is planned to operate in one regional and one urban setting within New South Wales providing an insight into the impacts of COVID-19 on problem gambling for Indigenous communities in a range of geographical environments. The research will employ an indigenist approach, considering the complex socio-cultural factors contributing to the over-representation of Indigenous people in problem gambling statistics. The project, led by Dr Paul Saunders and Professor Aunty Kerrie Doyle from the university’s School of Medicine and Translational Health Research Institute, will look to develop a public health strategy to increase awareness around problem gambling and its dissociation with Indigenous culture. Dr Saunders was delighted with the grant outcome stating that “a focus on a strengths-based approach that is community-driven and locally-relevant to the two project communities will ensure community-control and sustainability of the developed strategies which, if successful, may also be translated to address other socially-mediated, and locally-relevant public health issues which have often been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic”. The project is due to commence in early 2021.