The National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) was established at Curtin University, Perth in 1986 as one of two national centres of excellence in alcohol and other drug research under the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse, now known as the National Drug Strategy.

Originally named the National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse (NCRPDA), NDRI was made a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in 1994, and was awarded Research Institute status by Curtin University in 1999, in recognition of its growing reputation and size.

Previously located in South Perth, West Perth, and at Curtin's health research campus in the the western Perth suburb of Shenton Park until 2017, the Institute is now located in Technology Park, Bentley, adjacent to Curtin's main campus.