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Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Research Group

Current Projects
  • Psychobiological Effects of Ecstasy/MDMA Projects
  • DAISY Project
  • Cigarette Smoking and Nicotine Addiction Projects
  • Electronic Cigarette Projects
  • Recreational Cocaine Project
  • Cannabis and Psychosis-like Behaviours
  • Gambling Treatment Evaluation
  • Young People and Pornography Addiction
  • Computerised Health Feedback Intervention for University Substance Users
  • ALICE RAP (Addiction and Lifestyles in Contemporary Europe Reframing Addictions Project)
Psychobiological Effects of Ecstasy/MDMA Projects

(Kirstie Soar; John Turner; Margherita Milani)

The group has worked on a number of research projects at UEL and in collaboration with Professor Andy Parrott (Swansea University) looking at both the acute, sub-acute and long-term psychobiological effects associated with the recreational drug ecstasy (MDMA).

In particular, numerous projects lead by Kirstie Soar have focused upon heavy ecstasy (MDMA) users, who often report a variety of drug-related problems, and investigating the prevalence and nature of these problems, along with their persistence. Cognitive functioning of these more problematic ecstasy users has also been assessed. Margherita Milani has undertaken a large-scale investigation into the psychological health and wellbeing of several hundred Italian and British youngsters, ranging from those who have never taken any psychoactive drugs, to heavy polydrug (multiple-drug) users. She has also investigated the effect of ecstasy polydrug use on attention and memory: in particular, prospective memory.

Recent Related Publications

Milani, R.M. (2011). The contribution of ecstasy dependence and stress to ecstasy/MDMA-related psychiatric symptoms. The Open Addiction Journal, 4(1), 28–29. doi:10.2174/1874941001104010028
Soar, K., Parrott, A.C., & Turner, J.J.D. (2009). Attributions for psychobiological changes in ecstasy/MDMA and other polydrug users. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 23(7),745–58. doi:10.1177/0269881108092594
Parrott, A.C., Milani, R.M., Gouzoulis-Mayfrank, E., & Daumann, J. (2007) Cannabis and Ecstasy/MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine): an analysis of their neuropsychobiological interactions in recreational users. [research article] Journal of Neuronal Transmission. 114(8),959-68. doi:10.1007/s00702-007-0715-7
Soar, K., Turner, J.J.D., & Parrott, A.C. (2006). Problematic versus non-problematic Ecstasy/MDMA use: the influence of drug usage patterns and pre-existing psychiatric factors. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 20(3), 417–724. doi:10.1177/0269881106063274
Royal Medicine Society (2006). Round Table Series 83: Ergot-derived drugs. Edited by Grosset, D., Schachter, M., Soar, K., Turner, J., Van Camp, G. Royal Medicine Society Press.

DAISY Project

(John Turner)

The Development and Infancy Study (DAISY) is in the emerging field of Behavioural Teratology, exploring the possible effects of in utero exposure to recreational drugs (ecstasy, cannabis, nicotine, etc.) on the subsequent social and cognitive development of the infant. This project is also looking at continued drug use by non-addicted mothers during pregnancy and the possible impact on their health, mental health and interactions with their newborns.

The project is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the US (Grant: DA14910-01) and is an international collaborative study between the Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Research Group and Professor Derek Moore at University of Surrey, Professor Andy Parrott at Swansea University, Professor Lynn Singer and colleagues at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio, and involving Dr Susan Patterson at Imperial College.

Recent related publications

Parrott, A.C., Moore, D.G., Turner, J.J.D., Goodwin, J., Fulton, S., Min, M.O., & Singer, L.T. (2014). MDMA and heightened cortisol: a neurohormonal perspective on the pregnancy outcomes of mothers used ‘Ecstasy’ during pregnancy. Human Psychopharmacology, 29(1), 1–7. doi:10.1002/hup.2342
Turner, J.J.D., Parrott, A.C., Goodwin, J., Moore, D.G., Fulton, S., Min, M.O., & Singer, L.T. (2014). Psychiatric profiles of mothers who take ecstasy/MDMA during pregnancy: reduced depression one year after giving birth and quitting ecstasy. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 28(1), 55–61. doi:10.1177/0269881113515061
Singer, L.T., Moore, D.G., Fulton, S., Goodwin, J., Turner, J.J.D., Min, M.O., & Parrott, A.C. (2012). Neurobehavioral outcomes of infants exposed to MDMA (Ecstasy) and other recreational drugs during pregnancy. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 34(3), 303–310. doi:10.1016/j.ntt.2012.02.001
Singer, L.T., Moore, D.G., Min, M.O., Goodwin, J.E., Turner, J.J.D., Fulton, S.E., et al. (2012). One-year outcomes of prenatal exposure to MDMA and other recreational drugs. Pediatrics, 130(3), 407–413. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-0666
Moore, D.G., Turner, J.J.D., Goodwin, J.E., Fulton, S., Singer, L.T., & Parrott, A.C. (2011). In-utero exposure to the popular ‘recreational’ drugs MDMA (Ecstasy) and methamphetamine (Ice, Crystal): preliminary findings. In Preece & Riley (Eds.), Alcohol drugs and medication in pregnancy. Wiley.
Moore, D.G., Turner, J.D., Parrott, A.C., Goodwin, J.E., Fulton, S.E., Min, M.O., … Singer, L.T. (2009). During pregnancy, recreational drug-using women stop taking ecstasy (3,4–methylenedioxy–N–methylamphetamine) and reduce alcohol consumption, but continue to smoke tobacco and cannabis: initial findings from the Development and Infancy Study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 24(9), 1403–1410. doi:10.1177/0269881109348165


Cigarette Smoking and Nicotine Addiction Projects


(Lynne Dawkins)

Lynne Dawkins is interested in nicotine addiction and smoking, particularly the implications that current addiction theory has for behaviour, namely reward motivation, anhedonia, cue-reactivity and response inhibition. Lynne joined the group from Goldsmiths College, where she was involved in a NIDA-funded prospective study with Professor Jane Powell in which 200 smokers were followed up during a quit attempt. This study explored the effects of short-term nicotine abstinence on a variety of cognitive and behavioural measures (particularly response inhibition and reward motivation) and investigated their relevance to successful longer-term smoking cessation. Given that poor response inhibition was a observed to be a predictor of relapse within seven days, subsequent work with Matt Field, Lee Hogarth and PhD student Emma Chapman, has been exploring whether response inhibition training can impact on craving, tobacco choice and smoking behaviour.

Electronic cigarettes: What we know so far



Recent related publications

Dawkins, L. (2013). Why is it so hard to quit smoking? The Psychologist, 26(5), 332–335.
Froggart, D., Jansari, A., Edgington, T., & Dawkins, L. (2012). Investigating the impact of nicotine on executive functions using a novel virtual reality assessment. Addiction. doi:10.1111/add.12082
Dawkins, L. & Powell, J. (2011). Effects of Nicotine and Alcohol on Affective Responses to Emotionally Toned Film clips. Psychopharmacology, 216(2), 197–205. doi:10.1007/s00213-011-2197-4
Powell, J., Dawkins, L., West, R., Powell, J., & Pickering, A. (2010). Relapse to smoking during unaided cessation: clinical, cognitive and motivational predictors. Psychopharmacology, 212, 537–549. doi:10.1007/s00213-010-1975-8
Powell, J., Dawkins, L., West, R., Powell, J., & Pickering, A. (2010). Erratum to: Relapse to smoking during unaided cessation: clinical, cognitive and motivational predictors. Psychopharmacology, 215(3), 607.
Dawkins, L., Powell, J.H., Pickering, A., Powell, J., & West, R. (2009). Patterns of change in withdrawal symptoms, desire to smoke, reward motivation, and response inhibition across three months of smoking abstinence. Addiction, 104(5), 850–858. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02522.x
Soar, K., Dawkins, L., Begum, H., & Parrott, A.C. (2008). The effects of cigarette smoking and abstinence on auditory verbal learning. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 23(7), 621–627. doi:10.1002/hup.968
Dawkins, L., Acaster, S., & Powell, J.H. (2007). The effects of smoking and abstinence on experience of happiness and sadness in response to positively valenced, negatively valenced and neutral film clips. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 425–431. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2006.05.010
Dawkins, L., Powell, J.H., West, R., Powell, J., & Pickering, A. (2007). A double-blind placebo controlled experimental study of nicotine: II effects on response inhibition and executive functioning. Psychopharmacology, 190(4), 457–467. doi:10.1007/s00213-006-0634-6
Powell, J.H., & Dawkins, L. (2007). Cognitive, affective and motivational effects of smoking. In P.M. Miller & D.J. Kavanagh (Eds.), Translation of Addictions Science into Practice (pp. 239–257). Oxford: Elsevier. doi:10.1016/B978-008044927-2/50061-4
Dawkins, L., Powell, J.H., West, R., Powell, J., & Pickering, A. (2006). A double-blind placebo controlled experimental study of nicotine: I effects on incentive motivation. Psychopharmacology, 189(3), 355–367. doi:10.1007/s00213-006-0588-8
Electronic Cigarette Projects

(Lynne Dawkins with John Turner, Kirstie Soar and Amanda Roberts)

Since 2009, Lynne Dawkins and colleagues have been conducting research into electronic cigarettes. Projects include exploring the efficacy of electronic cigarettes for reducing craving and nicotine withdrawal symptoms, effects on cognitive performance, surveying attitudes and behaviours of current users, and investigating usability in novice users (products supplied from two commercial e-cigarette companies: TECC and TWEL). In a recent collaborative clinical laboratory study with the Medicines Research Group funded by Skycigs, measurable levels of blood nicotine were observed following the use of a first generation, ‘cigarette-like’ e-cigarette in regular users. Current work is exploring
  1. the effects of e-cigarette visual appearance on craving and withdrawal symptom relief and
  2. addictiveness of e-cigarettes vs tobacco cigarettes.

Recent related publications

Dawkins, L., & Corcoran, O. (2014). Acute electronic cigarette use: nicotine delivery and subjective effects in regular users. Psychopharmacology, 231(2), 401–407. doi:10.1007/s00213-013-3249-8
Dawkins, L., Turner, J., & Crowe, E. (2013). Nicotine derived from the electronic cigarette improves time-based prospective memory in abstinent smokers. Psychopharmacology, 277, 377-384. doi:10.1007/s00213-013-2983-2
Dawkins, L., Turner, J., Roberts, A., & Soar, K. (2013). ‘Vaping’ profiles and preferences: an online survey of electronic cigarette users. Addiction, 108(6), 1115–1125. doi:10.1111/add.12150
Dawkins, L., Turner, J., Hasna, S., & Soar, K. (2012). The electronic-cigarette: effects on desire to smoke, withdrawal symptoms and cognition. Addictive Behaviours, 37(8), 970–973. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2012.03.004
Dawkins, L., Kent, T.S., & Turner, J. (2010). The electronic cigarette: acute effects on mood and craving. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 24 (suppl. 3), A32.

Recreational Cocaine Project

(Kirstie Soar, John Turner)

There are a number of individual research projects that have addressed the cognitive and psychological functioning of recreational cocaine use. Recreational cocaine use has been on the increase with the UK having the highest levels of reported us in the UK (EMCDDA, 2011), however relative to other recreational drugs e.g. ecstasy, research into the effects of recreational cocaine use is sparse. Our group is one of the first in the UK to have focused on relatively pure recreational cocaine users and have demonstrated deficits in neuropsychological functioning; inhibitory control, learning, planning, attention and associative learning as measured by latent inhibition relative to non-cocaine users. In addition to related publications, this work has been presented at a number of national conferences, and Dr Soar was recently awarded the BPS ‘runner up’ prize for best poster presentation at the Annual British Psychological Society Conference, 2012.

One ongoing project aims to assess a large cohort of recreational cocaine users relative to other polydrug users on a number of psychological measures, as well as addressing the effects and patterns of cocaine use relative to these psychological symptoms. If you are interested in taking part please go to http://homepages.uel.ac.uk/J.Painter/KSoar/questions.htm. Please note we need non-cocaine users to participant as well as recreational cocaine users.

Recent related publications

Soar, K., Mason, C., Potton, A., & Dawkins, L. (2012). Neuropsychological effects associated with recreational cocaine use. Psychopharmacology, 222(4), 633–643. doi:10.1007/s00213-012-2666-4
Soar, K., & Mason, C. (2008). Recreational cocaine use: schizotypy and cognitive performance. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 22(5), TF06: A66.


Cannabis and Psychosis-like Behaviours

(Stephanie Lynch, John Turner, Kirstie Soar, Lynne Dawkins)

Stephanie Lynch (current PhD student), whilst an undergraduate student at UEL, completed a final year project, with John Turner, looking at this latter area: in particular, the performance of regular cannabis users in tests of associative learning (tasks known to be affected by psychosis and psychosis-like states). Stephanie submitted an abstract of her study to the British Association of Psychopharmacology, and was awarded one of four prestigious annual undergraduate prizes for her work (alongside fellow prize winners from Bristol and Oxford Universities), in July 2006 at the BAP summer meeting in Oxford. Stephanie is currently working on her PhD, expanding on this undergraduate-level work, and looking at the roles of genetic markers, previously implicated in the aetiology of schizophrenia, in the possible interactions between cannabis use and psychosis-linked behaviours.

Gambling Treatment Evaluation


(Amanda Roberts with Laura Opaluwa, John Turner and Lynne Dawkins)

Amanda Roberts is currently working on a collaborative project with the Gordon Moody Association, a registered charity that has been helping rehabilitate compulsive gamblers through its residential treatment programme since 1971. The Association has a residential treatment programme in Dudley, and Beckenham and the team are conducting an extensive evaluation of their programme.

Findings will inform both the Gordon Moody Association and the wider gambling addiction therapeutic community. The unique place of the Gordon Moody service in residential treatment means that this research would be the only study of its kind in the UK.

Young People and Pornography Addiction

(Amanda Roberts and John Turner)

Amanda Roberts has been working with Channel 4 on a survey of young people’s use of pornography and sexual addiction. This was the subject of a recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Porn on the Brain’ that explored the impact of internet pornography on adolescents’ brains and behaviour, in which the preliminary results of Roberts’ and Turners’ survey were presented. Since then 1000 respondents have completed the survey, which is ongoing. If you are a young person between the ages of 16 and 20 and would like to take part in this survey, please visit http://www.uelpsychology.org/teenimagery/.

Computerised Health Feedback Intervention for University Substance Users


(Meredith Terlecki)

The study aims to develop and evaluate a brief computerised health feedback intervention for reducing risky alcohol and substance use among university students in the United Kingdom (UK). Among UK University students, 61% of male and 48% of female students regularly consume excessive amounts of alcohol (i.e., drink in excess of weekly recommended guidelines) and 20% of students endorse weekly cannabis use. Despite the fact that computerised interventions are effective for reducing alcohol use among university students, very little attention has been paid to computerised drug interventions or combined drug/alcohol interventions.

The current research study has three objectives to expand the literature on treating substance use among university students:

  1. to develop and evaluate a brief electronic health-feedback intervention to jointly target alcohol and illicit drug use among university students in the UK;
  2. to identify characteristics of help-seeking behaviour among students after receiving the intervention to inform future prevention intervention initiatives; and
  3. to evaluate predictors of treatment outcomes and help seeking behaviour in students to refine assessment and treatment referral practices.

If you are a university student aged 18 to 29 and would like to take part in the study, please visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/UELHealthFeedback.

ALICE RAP (Addiction and Lifestyles in Contemporary Europe Reframing Addictions Project)

(Francisco Eiroa Orosa)

ALICE RAP is a European research project, co-financed by the European Commission, which started in April 2011 and aims to stimulate a broad and productive debate on science-based policy approaches to addictions. For further information visit http://www.alicerap.eu/.