How does intergenerational substance use affect the developing brain?

2 July 2019
The effects of substance use on child brain health

Briana has returned from the University of California in San Diego, where she collaborated with leading experts in brain development and substance use to develop a series of publications exploring child brain health.

Ms Briana Lees, a NHMRC PhD candidate at the Matilda Centre for Research in Substance Use and Mental Health (the Matilda Centre) has just returned from an international collaboration with the University of California in San Diego, where she worked collaboratively with leading experts in brain development and substance use to develop a series of publications exploring child brain health.

Briana Lees

Briana Lees

Briana’s PhD explores the neurobiological impacts of substance use during vulnerable developmental periods, in particular the impact of parent and adolescent offspring substance use on brain structure, function and cognition.

“Parent substance use results in worse cognitive and behavioural outcomes for offspring and increases the likelihood of offspring developing a substance use disorder. Yet, the impact of parental experiences of substance use on offspring brain development is relatively unknown” says Ms. Lees.

“This knowledge is critical as one in four youth have a family history of substance use problems and two in five women use substances at some point during pregnancy. Understanding the brain and cognitive deficits associated with substance exposure has important implications for ongoing neurofunction. This research is fundamental for substance use prevention efforts during pregnancy and interventions to help minimise post-exposure consequences.”

Briana’s study uses neuroimaging (MRI and fMRI), neuropsychological and survey data will from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which is the largest longitudinal brain study of child health in the US (12,000 adolescents), as well as the Matilda Centre’s Inroads early intervention program for young people who consume hazardous levels of alcohol and experience anxiety.

The international collaboration with the University of California San Diego was supported by a 2018 Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Illness and Substance Use (PREMISE) Travel and Career Development Support Grant. PREMISE is a NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence led by the Matilda Centre, aiming to provide a world first synergy of the leading prevention and early intervention research and translation programs in mental health and addiction across five Australian universities. These unique grants provide support for valuable career development activities including travel for early to mid-career researchers or research students to disseminate their research, undertake internships with national and international collaborators and build their research networks.

Her project is supervised by Dr Louise Mewton and Professor Maree Teesson, with Dr Lexine Stapinski as an auxiliary supervisor. In addition to collaborating with world-leading researchers from The University of California San Diego, the project has also involved input from researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina, the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of New South Wales, Neuroscience Research Australia, and the University of Melbourne.

2019 PREMISE grants

The Matilda Centre would like to congratulate the 2019 PREMISE Travel and Career Development Support Grant recipients: Dr Emma Barrett, Dr Louise Thornton and Ms Lucinda Grummitt.  In addition, last month the Matilda Centre awarded two inaugural PREMISE PhD scholarships to Ms Lucinda Grummitt and Ms Samantha Lynch.

Lucinda Grummitt. Ms Grummitt’s research will focus on child maltreatment, bullying and social isolation as risk factors for substance use problems in adolescence, with supervision from Associate Professor Nicola Newton and Dr Erin Kelly.

Samantha Lynch. Ms Lynch’s project will evaluate the general factor of psychopathology and aetiology of mental and substance use disorders in young people to optimise targets and timing of prevention. Her work will be supervised by Associate Professor Cath Chapman, Associate Professor Nicola Newton and Dr Matthew Sunderland.

For further information about PREMISE contact us at or learn more at their website.