How to Integrate Research into Your CRP

You don’t need to be a researcher to reap the benefits.


Building research into collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) is a great way to strengthen students’ experiences, programs and university relationships, as well as enhance the reputation of the university. And you don’t need to be a researcher to integrate research into your CRP and reap the benefits! Using certain data to help develop your college recovery program is a great opportunity to create programs that better suit the needs of your students, improve budget allocations and increase the potential for grants.

In fact, some researchers argue that all CRPs should be tracking at least some data about their students. Data collected on recovering students helps to support the mission of CRPs in multiple ways. Plus, the information revealed by data collection can provide a unique opportunity to answer the broader question about how students recover and how recovery impacts academic achievement.

Researchers Jessica McDaniel and Austin Brown of Kennesaw State University’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery spoke on this topic at the National Collegiate Recovery Conference in Boston in July. Their presentation, “Building Research into CRPs to Strengthen Students, Programs, and University Relationships,” was so well received that we’ve summarized their key points.


Building research into CRPs has numerous benefits, not just within the CRP but across the institution. With increased institutional pressure from universities to implement evidence-based practices and create a culture of assessment, utilizing data related to CRP students provides accountable information on student progress that can justify CRP operations and inform program design. Gathering data on CRPs outcomes also provides an opportunity to assess and improve CRP practices. Ongoing research within CRPs offers opportunities for all students to help with the research projects and gain valuable research experience.

CRP research also strengthens the position of the institution. According to McDaniel and Brown: “There will come a day when you are asked to justify what you do and for whom you do it. That moment can be a great opportunity if you have the data — but it can feel like an inquisition if you do not.”

What’s more, gathering hard data provides a very real opportunity in relation to recovery in the wider world, not just on campuses. The Kennesaw State University researchers note that CRPs are uniquely positioned in close proximity to highly successful examples of recovery achievement as well as successful educational trajectories. This provides a unique opportunity to answer the question that many want to know: How do people get better and recover from substance use disorder?


Brown and McDaniel explain that at Kennesaw State University they study the students’ relationships to oneself, their relationships to others and the larger world. They study how students have recovered and the various continuums of care and support that are involved. In addition, they collaborate on research about CRPs across the country and help inform wider policy questions, from state educational policy to prevention programming in higher education. The researchers look at this information using a number of quantitative and qualitative measures, including mapping major landmarks in recovery experiences, identity processes and support mechanisms.

There is a wide range of data they collect:

  • Substance use, mental health, criminal, academic and treatment histories
  • Demographic information
  • GPA information
  • Retention, progression and graduation rates
  • Rates of return to use
  • Recovery check-ins surveys
  • Seminar evaluation and focus group feedback
  • Length of recovery
  • Psychosocial measures


Integrating research can benefit students, CRPs and the wider institution.

Brown explains that the benefits to students are twofold. “Research-driven programming provides real-time, evidence-based program response to meet the needs of CRP students,” he says. “Secondly, the study of CRP data provides ongoing information to the collegiate recovery field through peer-reviewed journals while providing opportunities for laboratory and publication experience for all students interested in recovery research.”

The data collected can also be used to help design programming for students, allocate resources — sometimes helping to increase budgets — and establish a link between the CRP and the greater mission of the university. Brown and McDaniel state that every CRP should be tracking some or all of these programming variables.


Incorporating research into your program is easier than you think, Brown says.

“In fact, many programs already capture important information such as demographics, academic history, recovery history and using history, recovery affiliations, age of first use, grade point averages, so on and so forth,” he says. “This is valuable information that can help to inform practice and  programming, as well as identify trends and changes.”

“Every CRP should be capturing minimum data on their students as part of their operations,” Brown continues. “Additionally, aggregated data from your CRP can be used in larger research studies on CRPs and to explain to the university and funders what you do and who you serve.”

Brown and McDaniel suggest some of the specific ways you can bring research into your CRP:

  • Collaborate with other departments and organizations, including psychology, sociology, wellness and nursing departments.
  • Get involved with the Alcohol and Other Drug Coalition, in the biennial review, and/or the National College Health Assessment.
  • Create an undergraduate research team and/or hire graduate research assistants or interns.
  • Use the university’s mission and vision to drive the CRP evaluation and research, particularly at universities with notable research reputations.

Another way you can strengthen research and develop a network of others researching in CRPs is to get involved with the Recovery Science Research Collaborative (RSRC). Each year, this think tank of researchers and professionals in recovery meet with the overarching goal of guiding recovery science nationally and promoting collaboration among researchers. The RSRC has also been working on a public-facing database for recovery research data, a collegiate recovery longitudinal study and a paper on recovery-informed theory.


To assess the best data to collect in your CRP, Brown and McDaniel suggest asking those involved a series of questions:

  • What data is available?
  • What are my goals?
  • Who are my collaborators?
  • What hypotheses do I have?
  • What can be operationalized, collected and tested?
  • What are the university, federal and health information standards and training that I need?

Once you have the answers to those questions, it will be easier to determine which data to collect. That could include grades, recovery status, majors, post-graduation trajectories, graduation rates, psychosocial histories and qualitative stories.

With higher education being a venue where sciences emerge and innovate, collegiate recovery programs are the prime arena for recovery science research.


Writer and wellness advocate Olivia Pennelle (Liv) passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness. You will find Pennelle featured among top recovery writers and bloggers, published on websites such as, The Fix, Intervene, Workit Health, iExhale, Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, Transformation Is Real, Sanford House, Winward Way and Casa Capri.


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