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Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies MA

Learn about the course below

Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies MA

October 2023
2 years part-time
Part-time via distance learning
£9,600 over two years (UK) *
£14,800 over two years (EU/INT) *
Course leader
Karen Duke

The use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco has become a major concern for most governments across the world. This has resulted in increasing international and European collaboration to devise policies and approaches to address problems related to substance use/misuse. There has also been a considerable expansion in research, data gathering and scientific publishing in many countries and various action plans and strategies have been produced.

Why study MA Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies at Middlesex University?

This master's degree is designed for those who want to expand their knowledge and understanding of these drug and alcohol issues, including policies and interventions, within a comparative context. It is relevant to policy makers and practitioners, and to students and researchers working in, associated with, or preparing to enter this field.

Over the course of the programme you will gain the knowledge and skills required to investigate and analyse drug and alcohol use, problem use, addiction, and their responses, from a multi-disciplinary and cross-national perspective.

The master's is being run jointly by four universities: Middlesex University; Aarhus University (Denmark); University del Piemonte Orientale "A. Avogardo" (Italy); and Universitas Miguel Hernandez de Elche-Alicante (Spain). With access to a group of European teachers and students, you will have opportunities to share research findings as well as experiences and personal knowledge about your own countries. You will also have the chance to study in partner universities or undertake placements in Europe and international agencies and gain career development through utilising work-based learning approaches and internships.

The programme is taught primarily through distance learning methods complemented by some face-to-face tuition.

Course highlights

  • Unique comparative perspective
  • Delivered by experts at four universities across Europe (Denmark, Italy, Spain and the UK)
  • Students have the opportunity to work and collaborate with staff and fellow students across Europe and internationally
  • Option to study in partner universities or undertake placements in European and international organisations, such as the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
  • Opportunities for career development through utilising work-based learning approaches and internships
  • Possibilities for CPD study.

Find out more

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What will you study on the MA Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies?

The programme is composed of core, compulsory and optional modules. The induction, 'Introduction to Drug and Alcohol Studies', aims to:

  • Introduce students to the content and requirements of the programme, to the lecturers in the partner universities, and to an international group of students
  • Emphasise the comparative and multi-disciplinary nature of the programme
  • Raise awareness of sources of information and to provide guidance in selecting and using 'evidence' and information from research or other sources
  • Provide an introduction to main concepts, theories and issues to be addressed in the programme
  • Provoke a critical appreciation of the problematic and complex nature of drug and alcohol studies
  • Lay the foundations for students to work collaboratively with others in our partner universities.

Overall, the programme consists of five compulsory modules (including an Induction module), plus a Dissertation and two optional modules.

Not all of the optional modules listed will be available in any one year. Module availability is dependent on staffing and the number of students wishing to take each module.

  • Core modules

    • Introduction to Drug and Alcohol Studies (Induction) (Non-credit bearing) - Compulsory

      This module aims to introduce students to the content and requirements of the programme and of this module, to the lecturers in the partner universities, and to an international group of students; to emphasise the European and multi-disciplinary nature of the programme; to introduce them to sources of information and to provide guidance in selecting and using evidence and information from research or other sources; to provide an introduction to main concepts, theories and issues to be addressed in the programme; to provoke a critical appreciation of the problematic and complex nature of drug and alcohol studies; and to lay the foundations for students to work collaboratively with others in partner universities.

    • Substance Use and Addiction Theories (20 credits) - Compulsory

      Using a 'life course' approach, this module aims to develop skills in the interpretation of different stages in the course of substance use and addiction through an examination of drug use patterns and addiction theories. It also aims to enable students to critically evaluate the different theoretical approaches and develop the abilities in applying them to policies, strategies and interventions.

    • Responses to Drug and Alcohol Use (20 credits) - Compulsory

      This module aims to provide a broad understanding of the multi-disciplinary interventions at clinical and preventive level to tackle drug use and dependence. The student will learn how to apply knowledge of research methodologies and techniques in order to provide definitions and analyse the complex interaction between prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and harm reduction, to develop intervention projects or scientific works by applying relevant knowledge and skills and to elaborate evidenced-based intervention strategies at individual or group level, in the drug and alcohol field.

    • Drug and Alcohol Policies in Europe (20 credits) - Compulsory

      This module aims to develop a critical approach to analysing how policies are developed, implemented and evaluated at international, national, and local levels. There will be a focus on European policy within a global context and students will be encouraged to examine their own national and local policies within this broader context. Students will draw on a range of policies on alcohol, drugs and tobacco to explore and critique the relationship between national policy and international policy (e.g. from WHO, UNODC and the EU). They will compare and contrast policy approaches to prevention, harm reduction and treatment across a number of countries and analyse the importance of different cultural, social and political contexts on policy formulation and implementation.

    • Dissertation (60 credits) - Compulsory

      This module aims to provide students with the opportunity to develop a detailed and advanced understanding of a particular aspect of drug and/or alcohol policy and practice. Students will define their own topic area, write a proposal for their dissertation work, conduct a comprehensive review of existing knowledge on the subject, formulate a methodology for conducting their own enquiries and write an in-depth report of the findings of their research. Alternatively, students may choose to conduct a theoretically oriented piece of work involving the systematic analysis of an issue or area of policy/practice.

  • Choose one of the following compulsory modules:

    • Research Methods for Drug and Alcohol Studies (20 credits) - Compulsory

      This module aims to familiarise students with major approaches to research; develop their skills in designing a research proposal; enhance their skills in qualitative and quantitative methods; enhance their critical appreciation of research; and ensure students are able to apply relevant approaches and methods to their own research project or extended literature review at master's level.

    • Evidence-based Practice Applied to Prevention and Treatment (20 credits) - Compulsory

      This module aims to enable students to take decisions on the bases of scientific evidence in order to tackle the different aspects of substance use and addiction problems. It considers the main features of evidence-based practice and the scientific standards for evaluating the effectiveness of interventions.

  • Choose two of the following optional modules:

    • Drugs and Crime (20 credits) - Optional

      This module aims to develop advanced skills in the application of criminological theories and concepts in relation to drugs, drug use and drugs control, and in critically analysing the relationship between drugs and crime. Students will critically evaluate the laws, policies and institutions of drugs control within their social, political and economic contexts, and compare and contrast the role of the criminal justice system in responding to drugs in various countries. The module also aims to foster a critical interest in the reform of drugs control policy and institutions at both national and international levels.

    • User Perspectives (20 credits) - Optional

      This module aims to critically assess and reflect upon the central aspects of employing a user perspective in both drug and alcohol services and academic research. In relation to service provision, this perspective enables the student to challenge existing practices towards users and to re-examine ideas about motivation, goals and outcomes in drug and alcohol treatment processes. In research a user perspective will help students to shift their focus away from abstract and objective estimations of use towards a focus on power relations and the life-worlds of alcohol and drug users.

    • Cultural and Social Aspects of Drug and Alcohol Use (20 credits) - Optional

      This module aims to enable the students to critically assess the differences and similarities between societies and historical periods in alcohol and drug use patterns. Students will be able to recognise different patterns of use through diverse sources, including research in the field but also the images offered by literature, art and music, including the meanings and pleasure that individuals seek through alcohol and drug consumption.

    • Integrated Work and Learning (20 credits) - Optional

      This practical experience module provides the means for students to link academic work with 'real-world' work experience related to their specific programme. The aim is to enable the student to conceptualise the relation of theory to policy decisions within the wider world context. It is envisaged that the student will reflect and analyse areas of knowledge relevant to the workplace/placement learning experience and develop personal knowledge through review of learning. This learning experience provides students with the opportunity to enhance their skills of self-expression, communication, self-reliance, cooperation and team working within an area of work related to their chosen pathway.

You can find more information about this course in the programme specification. Module and programme information is indicative and may be subject to change.

We are regularly reviewing and updating our programmes to ensure you have the best learning experience. We are taking what we've learnt in recent years by enhancing our teaching methods with new and innovative ways of learning.

How is the MA Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies taught?

This course is taught primarily through distance learning methods complemented by some face-to-face teaching.

Criminology conferences

Our Department of Criminology and Sociology is part of the Common Studies Session in Critical Criminology (CSSCC) which involves postgraduate Criminology Departments across different EU universities including Jay College of New York. The conferences are held twice a year across the Europe.

You will be encouraged to attend and deliver your own paper at the conference and have the excellent opportunity to present your ideas in an international academic student environment. A certificate of attendance is awarded to the those who participate in the CSSCC.

Students' knowledge and understanding is assessed by various methods including coursework essays, online exams, research proposals, policy analyses, case study analyses, portfolios and reflective diaries.

Teaching and learning from 2022

We have developed new approaches to teaching and learning for the 2021/22 academic year.

We are currently reviewing our approach to teaching and learning for 2022 entry and beyond. We've learned a lot about how to give you a quality education - we aim to combine the best of our in-person teaching and learning with access to online learning and digital resources which put you more in charge of when and how you study. We will keep you updated on this throughout the application process.

Your timetable will be built around on campus sessions using our professional facilities, with online sessions for some activities where we know being virtual will add value. We’ll use technology to enhance all of your learning and give you access to online resources to use in your own time.

The table below gives you an idea of what learning looks like across a typical week. Some weeks are different due to how we schedule classes and arrange on campus sessions.

This information is likely to change slightly for 2022 entry as our plans evolve. You'll receive full information on your teaching before you start your course.

Learning structure: typical hourly breakdown in 2021/22

Live in-person on campus learning

Contact hours per week, per level:

8 hours

Live online learning

Average hours per week, per level:


Outside of these hours, you’ll be expected to do independent study where you read, listen and reflect on other learning activities. This can include preparation for future classes. In a year, you’ll typically be expected to commit 1200 hours to your course across all styles of learning. If you are taking a placement, you might have some additional hours.

Definitions of terms

  • Live in-person on campus learning – This will focus on active and experiential sessions that are both:
    • Led by your tutors including seminars, lab sessions and demonstrations We’ll schedule all of this for you
    • Student-led by you and other students, like small group work and presentations.
  • Live online learning – This will include lectures, tutorials and supervision sessions led by your tutor and timetabled by us. It also includes student-led group work that takes place online

  • Tutor set learning activities – This covers activities which will be set for you by your tutor, but which you will undertake in your own time. Examples of this include watching online materials, participating in an online discussion forum, completing a virtual laboratory or reading specific texts. You may be doing this by yourself of with your course mates depending on your course and assignments. Outside of these hours, you’ll also be expected to do further independent study where you’ll be expected to learn, prepare, revise and reflect in your own time.


You have a strong support network available to you to make sure you develop all the necessary academic skills you need to do well on your course.

Our support services will be delivered online and on campus and you have access to a range of different resources so you can get the help you need, whether you’re studying at home or have the opportunity to come to campus.

You have access to one to one and group sessions for personal learning and academic support from our library and IT teams, and our network of learning experts. Our teams will also be here to offer financial advice, and personal wellbeing, mental health and disability support.

  1. Standard entry requirements
  2. International (inc. EU)
  3. How to apply
  1. UK
  2. EU/International
  3. Additional costs
  4. Scholarships and bursaries

How can the MA Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies support your career?

The addictions field is multi-disciplinary and entrants will come from a range of different educational and professional backgrounds including nursing, social work, probation, research, and management. The MA Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies will be a valuable asset to developing and furthering a career in the drug and alcohol field either in the UK or abroad.

There are a number of career options in research, public or government services, voluntary organisations, and non-governmental organisations. The course aims to provide graduates with the knowledge and practical skills to develop careers in research and practice within the field of drug and alcohol practice, education and research, both nationally and within the wider international context.

The Master's provides opportunities for career development for those interested in pursuing links with European and international agencies, by offering work-based learning approaches, and organising work in the field in relevant agencies and in providing possible progression to PhD-level studies.

Dr Karen Duke
Associate Professor in Criminology

Dr Duke is an Associate Professor in Criminology specialising in research on the development of drugs policy and the interfaces with the criminal justice system. She has published books, articles, chapters and official reports in this area. She is one of the Editors in Chief of the peer reviewed journal, Drugs: education, prevention, and policy and the author of the book, Drugs, Prisons and Policy-making (Palgrave MacMillan). She has over twenty years of experience conducting research and evaluations for various organisations including the Home Office, Department of Health, the former Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit (Cabinet Office), the Royal Society for the Arts and the European Commission (FP7 ALICE RAP, Work Package on Stakeholders in Addiction).

  • Hanna Head

    Hanna Head

    MA Comparative Drug and Alcohol Studies

    The course covers so many important topics, while keeping a focus on real world applications of theory and combining it with a view that is wider than just the UK. Being able to work alongside students and academics from three other European universities means that we're always learning, even just in casual discussion, and the intensive weeks have been really helpful in creating strong bonds between all the students.

We’ll carefully manage any future changes to courses, or the support and other services available to you, if these are necessary because of things like changes to government health and safety advice, or any changes to the law.

Any decisions will be taken in line with both external advice and the University’s Regulations which include information on this.

Our priority will always be to maintain academic standards and quality so that your learning outcomes are not affected by any adjustments that we may have to make.

At all times we’ll aim to keep you well informed of how we may need to respond to changing circumstances, and about support that we’ll provide to you.

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