National Symposium for PhD Students Researching Addiction

First published: 13 January 2016 | Last updated: 27 March 2019

The PhD Symposium for students researching addiction has been an annual one-day event since 2008. The aim of the Symposium is to bring together individuals from a range of disciplines with an interest in addiction to learn about each other’s work and to debate, discuss and share ideas.

The first event was held at Oxford Brookes University and attracted sixteen research students from Universities across the UK. Since then the Symposium has grown in popularity with the most recent event attracting more than 40 delegates. The Symposium is structured around a series of presentations, relating to developing  research questions, literature reviews, research methodologies, data collection, analysis and writing, with an emphasis placed upon discussion and networking.

The 2015 Symposium was held at Bath University co-ordinated by Dr Jenny Scott and Dr Jo Neale. The day began with presentations and workshops by the symposium delegates about their research.  A number of these presentations are described below, highlighting the quality and range of PhD topics being undertaken in the addictions field.


“The female use of unlicensed weight loss drugs: conducting an online forum analysis”

Jennifer Brizell from Liverpool John Moore University presented her research on the use of unlicensed weight loss drugs by women. Jennifer highlighted how pressures on women to be a certain size and weight have led to an increasing demand for unlicensed weight loss drugs, typically brought online.  Jennifer aims to build a profile of the type of people who buy weight loss drugs online, to determine which type of drugs they get and from where and to explore the reasons and triggers for use. Jennifer is using a novel three stage methodology.  Firstly conducting an analysis of online forums where users discuss issues around appropriating and using the weight-loss drugs, followed by interviews with forum moderators and finally questionnaires and case-studies with weight loss drug users. Jennifer has identified 8 user forums so far and is about to start analysing the data.


“Hidden Harms and Hidden Data: Estimating the number of children of parents who misuse substances and measuring psycho-social outcomes including risk and protective factors”

Karen Galligan from Trinity College Dublin presented her work on the topic of parental substance misuse and its impact on their children.  Children whose parents misuse psychoactive substances are at risk of mental health problems and social dysfunction, and a better understanding of the problems these children experience is necessary to promote prevention. The aim of Karen’s work is to develop an estimation framework for the numbers of children whose parents misuse substances in Ireland and to measure the impact this has on their psycho-social development. Karen is currently collecting her data in a disadvantaged urban area in West Dublin.


“Implicit and explicit cognitions in adolescent alcohol use: What are they and why do they matter?”

Annie McAteer of Queens University Belfast presented her PhD topic on attentional biases in younger (16-17 year old) and older (19 – 21 year old) social drinkers. Her aim is to determine if there are any differences between these younger and older drinkers in alcohol expectancies and cognitive biases to alcohol-related stimuli. Annie is using eye-tracking methods, questionnaires and physiological measures (heart rate and skin conductance). So far her results demonstrate that social drinkers are more likely to look at (be biased towards) alcohol-related stimuli, and, that over time, as a person continues to drink, these biases towards alcohol stimuli become more automatic. In terms of prevention of alcohol misuse, it is easier to modify controlled attentional processes (as opposed to automatic ones) and therefore this suggests that early intervention may be critical.


“Experiences of alcohol use and hepatitis C among people who inject/injected drugs in Merseyside”

Jane Evely from Liverpool John Moores University presented her research exploring experiences of alcohol-use and drinking behaviours in injecting drug users diagnosed with Hepatitis C.  Jane’s methods include interviews exploring participants’ life histories, with the aim of examining participants’ drug-using careers in a broader socio-economical and historical context. Jane is currently over half way through her interviews and is already identifying key themes emerging from the data around the influence of partners on alcohol and substance use as well as the impact Hepatitis C has on lifestyle behaviours.


This brief summary of just some of the presentations given at the 2015 National Symposium for PhD students researching substance misuse gives a flavour not  only for the diversity of topics being researched within the addictions field but also the range of novel and interesting methodologies that students are utilising.  The Symposium is an excellent channel to support young researchers in their academic futures and will continue to do so with the Sponsorship of the SSA.


The opinions expressed in this commentary reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the Society for the Study of Addiction.