This opportunity is now closed.

Funded PhD Opportunity

Harm reduction interventions to improve the health related quality of life of people with long-term alcohol dependence

Subject: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience


Individuals with severe alcohol dependence face many acute, chronic, and social harms in their daily life. Abstinence based treatment can be a successful treatment option for some, for others, they may feel unable, or unwilling to consider a goal of abstinence or engage in structured treatment. As such, a harm reduction program of care should be considered [1-3].

There is robust evidence for harm reduction strategies to prevent the harms of illicit drug use (e.g. opiate substitution programs which may involve prescribed methadone or diamorphine), however, harm reduction interventions and models of care for long-term alcohol dependence are less clear [4]. One promising intervention is a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) harm reduction intervention.

Mounting international studies [e.g. 5-6] show MAPs are effective in decreasing the adverse consequences of alcohol use without the requirement of abstinence in clients. Individual studies show we can retain patients in harm reduction initiatives like MAPs who may not be retained in a traditional treatment settings. Services provided by Managed Alcohol Programs can vary, often focus on the link between dependence and homelessness, and there is limited evidence on what works in the UK and Ireland, with some notable exceptions [e.g. 7].

This PhD program aims to understand acceptable, feasible harm reduction solutions to improve health related quality of life in those with long-term alcohol dependence.

This PhD project may comprise a number of different elements:

1) Developing an evidence base for interventions in the client group (with particular focus on trauma, sleep, pain, and addiction symptomatology). This is likely to be a realist review of peer-reviewed and grey literature of interventions for the client group to understand what works, for whom, and in what circumstances.

2) A mapping exercise of services for the client group across the UK and/or Ireland to understand what services are available both inside and outside the NHS, and if/how they are evaluated for effectiveness.

3) Secondary data analysis of alcohol treatment data to identify factors contributing to repeat relapse/treatment non-completion.

4) Semi-structured interviews with clients and/or other stakeholders to understand and inform recommendations for models of care.

The successful candidate will have a demonstrable interest in the health and wellbeing of the client group to be justified in application materials and demonstrated at interview.  This is an essential criterion over and above the standard entrance requirements. The Degree (or equivalent) qualification(s) must be in Psychology or a closely related discipline.

1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence(NICE). Alcohol use disorders: diagnosis, assessment and management of harmful drinking and alcohol dependence. Available from /guidance/cg115

2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence(NICE). Alcohol-use disorders: diagnosis and management of physical complications. Available from

3. Raistrick D, Heather N, Godfrey C: Review of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Alcohol Problems. 2006. Available from

4. Marlatt GA, Witkiewitz K. Update on harm-reduction policy and intervention research. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2010; 6; 591-606.

5. Stockwell T, Buxton J, Duff C, Marsh D, MacDonald S, Michelow W, Richard K, Saewyc E, Hanson R, Cohen I. The British Columbia alcohol and other drug monitoring system: overview and early progress. Contemporary Drug Problems. 2009; 36 :459-484.

6. Duffin T. Past, Current and Future Perspectives on Service Responses to the Homeless Street Drinking Population of Dublin City Centre. MSc thesis submitted to the University of Dublin, Trinity College; 2006.

7. McCoy E, Oyston J, Ross-Houle K, Cochrane M, Bates G, Jones L, Whitfield M, McVeigh J. Evaluation of the Liverpool Rehabilitation, Education, Support & Treatment (REST) Centre. 2016. Liverpool: LJMU.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Masters at 65%


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Institute of Mental Health

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 18 February 2019

Interview Date
11-29 March 2019


Apply Online


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact supervisor

Dr Gillian Shorter

Other supervisors

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