Researching substance abuse

A Victoria University public health expert will join leading US minds investigating what makes people relapse into drug and alcohol addiction. 

Dr Chandra Jha was selected by the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse to join researchers at the University of Washington’s Centre for Drug & Alcohol Research in Seattle during 2015.

The prestigious INVEST/CTN Drug Abuse Research Fellowship provides postdoctoral research training and professional development for talented drug abuse scientists.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to really develop my practical and theoretical research skills with a leading group in this area by observing how they approach the work,” Dr Jha said. “It is really exciting for me to take this big step in my research career.”

Dr Jha’s research explores the factors preventing relapse into heroin, alcohol, ice and other substance abuse. He joined Victoria University’s Centre for Cultural Diversity & Wellbeing last year, bringing with him more than 20 years’ experience of research and field-work in drug harm minimisation.

His PhD research project involved extensive field work exploring how marginalised HIV sufferers in Nepal coped with exclusion, lack of family and community support and uncompassionate care from service providers.

“It was that experience and the things I saw there that inspired me to dedicate my research career to harm minimisation in drug and alcohol abuse and to providing an evidence base to policies and programs that work in turning people’s lives around,” he said.

Dr Jha now balances his academic work with a nursing coordinator role at the Salvation Army. He said having strong connections with industry and those working on the ground was crucial to producing relevant, informed and practical research outcomes.

The issue of substance abuse is growing worldwide and Australia is no exception.

He said youth unemployment, a lack of problem solving and stress-management skills and weak support networks were behind much substance abuse for young people. Meanwhile the common issues underlying substance abuse for older people include loneliness and isolation.

“In my work I see people overcome their substance addiction to go on and lead fulfilling lives and thrive,” he said. “Unfortunately these are not the majority of cases, which is what makes understanding why some relapse, and others not, so important.”

Dr Jha has published widely on substance use, youth, HIV, STIs, migration, stigma and the trafficking of women.

See all news