In 2021, the University of Birmingham launched Better Than Well - a student addiction recovery programme.
The implications of addiction to drugs, alcohol, or behaviours such as gambling, gaming, or sex can be significant, destroying lives and breaking up families. Not only is addiction often the response to underlying trauma and social stressors, persistent and repetitive use of substances or behaviours can generate their own physical, psychological and social problems. Merely achieving abstinence is rarely a long-term solution, and the concept of ‘recovery’ from addiction incorporates physical and mental wellbeing, meaningful activity, and full involvement in the rights, roles and responsibilities of society. Education is often a key part of recovery, but University life can present a variety of challenges to recovery.
In July 2021, the University of Birmingham launched a peer-led support program for students wishing to maintain abstinence-based recovery (Better Than Well; BTW). This project is led by Dr Ed Day from the Institute for Mental Health in the School of Psychology, supported by a philanthropic grant from the CrEdo Foundation. It is an example of a Collegiate Recovery Program, a successful strategy developed on campuses in the USA that allows students to work on a program of recovery whilst also accessing all the benefits of Higher Education. BTW aims to promote hope and purpose, positive identity development, a sense of achievement and accomplishment, capacity for stable interpersonal relationships, and healthy coping skills by:
- Support with completing the university admissions process, early orientation, developing individual plans of study, and general academic advice.
- Establishing a safe, anonymous space for students to discuss their experience of addiction(s) and to receive peer support for behaviour change.
- A weekly open meeting in ‘celebration’ of recovery that provides continued support to CRP members whilst also educating the wider community about the reality of addiction and recovery.
- Training student peer mentors to address both recovery and educational issues.
- Developing a student organisation responsible for facilitating recovery-orientated recreational and community volunteering activities
To date, the programme has engaged with nearly 30 students who report 10 separate forms of addiction. The group represents all five Colleges of the University and has an age range of between 18 and 45. A program of evaluation is getting under way, and the BTW team is supporting other UK Universities to set up similar services.
Better Than Well participant
“Being part of the Better Than Well programme has allowed me to excel in both my education and my recovery. Having a community of others like me on campus has really made a difference. I am hopeful for my future for the first time in a long time.”