Research Projects

Understanding Substance Use

Alongside colleagues nationally and internationally, Niki researches broad and nuanced experiences of substances, including those that are non-problematic and beneficial.

Often people think that substance USE means substance ABUSE, but this study takes a different approach.

The term “substance” includes:

  •     Legal substances (e.g. caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, over-the-counter medications)
  •     Prescription medication (e.g. oxycodone, Adderall, steroids)
  •     Illegal drugs (e.g. marijuana, cocaine, MDMA)
  •     Healing plants or medicines (e.g. san pedro, ketamine)

Impact may be:

  • Desired
    • Caffeine to focus at a meeting
    • Pain medication to manage a headache and engage in childcare
    • Alcohol to feel relaxed after a stressful event
    • Stimulants (e.g. Adderall, cocaine) to improve productivity
  • Undesired
    • Hangover that interferes in morning activities
    • Caffeine impairing sleep
    • Withdrawal

People use substances for various reasons, such as:

  •     Enjoyment
  •     Improving performance of certain activities
  •     Altering experiences
  •     Socializing with others
  •     Healing or spiritual practice

Since many substances are illegal, people are often unable to share their experiences or opinions. We invite the voices and perspectives of Canadians who use substances to confidentially share their perspectives and experiences.

i) Substance use by professionals

Niki’s research team sought to understand substance use by professionals and students in professional programs. Whereas the majority of substance use research focuses on experiences by people identified with having a substance use disorder or problematic substance use, the team’s research seeks to understand substance use among the general population. This project uncovered substance use that is largely controlled, leading to enhanced mood, cognitive performance, and quality of experiences.

ii) Photographic representations

The purpose of our newest project is to explore factors that promote and influence substance use through images and interviews. We aim to understand how do substances (legal, illegal, and prescribed) fit into peoples’ perceptions of what constitutes a good life (e.g., enhance or impede their ability to live a good life).


Kiepek, N., Ausman, C., Murphy, A., Brothers, T. (2023) Socially situated experiences of substance use: A photo elicitation pilot study. SAGE Open.


Kiepek, N., & Ausman, C. (2023). “You are you, but you are also your profession”: Nebulous boundaries of personal substance use. Contemporary Drug Problems, 50(1), 63–84.


Kiepek, N., Ausman, C. Beagan, B., & Patten, S. (2022) “A reward for surviving the day”: Women professionals’ experiences of substance use in comparison to men. Performance Enhancement & Health, 10(2), 100200.


Kiepek, N., Ausman, C., Beagan, B., & Patten, S. (2022). Substance use and meaning: Transforming occupational participation and experience. Brazilian Journal of Occupational Therapy / Cadernos Brasileiros de Terapia Ocupacional, 30, e3037.


Kiepek, N., Beagan, B., & Phelan, S. (2019, Nov). Enhancing occupation through use of substances: A critical interpretative synthesis. Brazilian Journal of Occupational Therapy / Cadernos Brasileiros de Terapia Ocupacional, 27(4), 843-857. doi: 10.4322/2526-8910.ctoar1926


Gish, A. Kiepek, N., & Beagan, B. (2019, July). Methamphetamine use among gay men: An interpretive review of a non-sanctioned occupation. Journal of Occupational Science, 27(1), 26-38. doi: 10.1080/14427591.2019.1643398


Sy, M., Bontje, P., Ohshima, N., & Kiepek, N. (2019, July). Articulating the form, function, and meaning of drug using in the Philippines from the lens of morality and work ethics. Journal of Occupational Science, 27(1), 12-21. doi: 10.1080/14427591.2019.1644662


Kiepek, N., Van der Ven, K., Forlini, C., & Dunn, M. (2019, July). Seeking legitimacy for broad understandings of substance use. International Journal of Drug Policy, 73, 58-63. doi: 1016/j.drugpo.2019.07.014


Kiepek, N., Harris, J., Beagan, B., & Buchanan, M. (2019, June). Substance use by social workers and implications for professional regulation. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 19(2), 147-159. doi: 10.1108/DAT-08-2018-0040


Kiepek, N., Beagan, B., & Harris, J. (2018, Mar). A pilot study to explore the effects of substances on cognition, mood, performance, and experience of daily activities. Performance Enhancement and Health, 6(1), 3-11. doi: 10.1016/j.peh.2018.02.003


Kiepek, N. & Beagan, B. (2018, Jan). Substance use and professional identity. Contemporary Drug Problems, 45(1), 47-66. doi: 10.1177/0091450917748982


Kiepek, N., & Baron, J.-L. (2017, Sept). Use of substances among professionals and students of professional programs: A review of the literature. Drugs: Education, Intervention, and Policy, 26(1), 1-26. doi: 10.1080/09687637.2017.1375080


Kiepek, N., & Magalhães, L. (2016, Oct). Exploring legitimacy and authority in the construction of truth regarding personal experiences of drug use. Addiction Research & Therapy, 7(2), 1-10. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000273

Matthew Bonn


Activist, Freelance Academic, Journalist, Policy Analyst

Dr. Jill Hayden


Professor, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University

Dr. Andrea Murphy


Associate Professor, College of Pharmacy, School of Nursing , Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University

Dr. Sheila Wildeman


Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University

Dr. Thomas Brothers


Medical doctor, Department of Medicine, Dalhousie University

Dr. Shu-Ping Chen


Associate Professor, University of Alberta

Kelda-Anne Sholdice

Research Coordinator

Hannah Peters

Research Coordinator

Dianna Burns

Research Assistant

Alexia Bystrzycki

Research Assistant

Elizabeth Coish

Research Assistant

Dominique Shephard

Research Assistant

Maria Mullally

Research Assistant

Megan Noye

Research Assistant

Jamie McCain

Research Assistant

Olivia Goucher

Research Assistant

Meredith Brison-Brown

Research Assistant

Josey Houle

Communications Lead

Dr. Matthew Dunn

International Partner

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health, Deakin University

Dr. Ana Malfitano

International Partner

Associate Professor, Departamento de Terapia Ocupacional, Universidade Federal de São Carlos

Dr. Michael Sy

International Partner

School of Health Sciences, Institute of Occupational Therapy, ZHAW

Dr. Lisa Jaegers

International Partner

Associate Professor,
Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Saint Louis University

Dr. Jennifer Bello Kottenstette

International Partner

Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine Saint Louis University

Dr. Brenda Beagan


Professor, School of Occupational Therapy, Dalhousie University

Jonathan Harris


Instructor, School of Occupational Therapy, Dalhousie University

San Patten


Instructor, College of Sustainability, Dalhousie University

Christine Ausman

Research Coordinator

Graduate Student, Dalhousie University

Substance Use Survey (English)

Substance Use Survey (French/Français)

Ecological Momentary Assessment Findings (English)

Ecological Momentary Assessment Findings (French/Français)

Interview Findings (English)

Interview Findings (French/Français)