A National Recovery Study in Higher Education Institutions in Ireland
In 2019, in response to growing public health concerns about drug-related mortality and harms, among students, the Minister of State for Higher Education in Ireland convened a Rapid Response Group. A core task was to survey all 23 Higher Education Institutions across Ireland. This survey used a probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling strategy to recruit students. Due to significant variation in population sizes of each institution, this sampling strategy ensured: (i) each student from each institution had an equal opportunity to be randomly selected to participate; (ii) data would be broadly representative across all courses and years of study, and (iii) undergraduate and postgraduate students would be proportionally represented. Of the 11,592 students who participated, 6.6% (n=610) reported at one time they had a problem with drugs or alcohol but no longer did. Of these, 44.9% (n=274) reported that it had been less than two years since they resolved their problem; 28.5% (n=174) reported that it had been 2–5 years, and 18.5% (n=113) reported it had been five or more years since they had resolved their problem. When asked to name the support used to resolve the problem (61.6%; n=376) said none, followed by sober living environments (16.9%; n=103), and community recovery organisations, e.g., Narcotics/Alcoholics Anonymous (8.5%; n=52).
For students recovering from addiction who wish to start or return to college, such environments have few supports and can present additional challenges and risk of relapse. For those wanting to moderate or abstain, a significant challenge is the perceived lack of peer support in these settings, with students having a difficult time either finding or developing a social community that is drug/alcohol-free. Improving recovery rates in student populations requires offering support beyond the current campus health services and utilising social networks and peer-led initiatives to close the longstanding gap between need and utilisation supports.