Neuropsychological problems and alcohol availability appear to be key factors in continued heavy alcohol use by Aboriginal Australians

Kylie M Dingwall, Paul Maruff and Sheree Cairney
Med J Aust 2011; 194 (1): 50-51.

To the Editor: Significant morbidity and mortality are associated with excessive alcohol use, which, for Aboriginal Australians, generally occurs within a context of disadvantage. During 2007–2009, we assessed cognitive and psychological factors (using CogState1 and Strong Souls2 [CogState Ltd, Melbourne, Vic]) of 21 men and 11 women on admission to a 2-month Aboriginal residential treatment program in the Northern Territory. Participants’ mean age was 32 years (SD, 8.7 years) and the mean length of time for which they had used alcohol was 13.3 years (SD, 7.7 years). To determine the effect of age, number of years of drinking and other factors on continued alcohol use, we reinterviewed and reassessed participants in their home community with the same cognitive and psychological measures used at the initial assessment after a mean period of 11 months (SD, 4.4 months). At both baseline and follow-up, the number of participants for whom data were available varied for some characteristics. The Human Research Ethics Committee of the Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services and Menzies School of Health Research (including the Aboriginal Ethics Sub Committee) approved the study.

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  • Kylie M Dingwall1
  • Paul Maruff2
  • Sheree Cairney3

  • 1 Division of Healing and Resilience, Menzies School of Health Research, Alice Springs, NT.
  • 2 Centre for Neuroscience, University of Melbourne, Melbourne VIC.
  • 3 Menzies School of Health Research, Institute of Advanced Studies, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT.


This study was funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grant. Kylie Dingwall received an NHMRC training scholarship.

Competing interests:

Paul Maruff is one of the founders of CogState, the company that sells the cognitive tests used in this study.

  • 1. Dingwall KM, Lewis MS, Maruff P, Cairney S. Reliability of repeated cognitive assessment in healthy Indigenous Australian adolescents. Aust Psychol 2009; 44: 224-234.
  • 2. Dingwall KM, Cairney S. Detecting psychological symptoms related to substance misuse among Indigenous Australians. Drug Alcohol Rev 2010; 16 Apr (online ahead of print).
  • 3. Rosenbloom MJ, Pfefferbaum A. Magnetic resonance imaging of the living brain: evidence for brain degeneration among alcoholics and recovery with abstinence. Alcohol Res Health 2008; 31: 362-376.
  • 4. Clough AR, d’Abbs P, Cairney S, et al. Adverse mental health effects of cannabis use in two Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia: exploratory study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2005; 39: 612-620.


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