Responding to Excessive Alcohol Consumption in Third-level Institutions

The REACT project, conducted from 2015 to 2019, aimed to develop, pilot and evaluate an alcohol prevention programme for third-level institutions in Ireland. A key impetus was to reduce the levels of hazardous alcohol consumption and related harms among college students in Ireland.

The project was a joint initiative between UCC Health Matters, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Irish Student Health Association (ISHA), and led by Dr Michael Byrne and Dr Martin Davoren, University College Cork (UCC). Dr Susan Calnan, UCC, undertook evaluation research on the programme as part of her PhD (2016–2019), under the supervision of Professor Ivan Perry, Dr Martin Davoren and Dr Órla O'Donovan, UCC. REACT was co-funded by the HSE and Tomar Trust.

Details of the intervention

Development of the REACT programme consisted of a three-step process: a literature review of existing alcohol prevention measures; a Delphi consensus event, involving staff and student representation from third-level institutions; and expert consultation on the final proposed measures. 

The resulting REACT programme consists of a suite of mandatory (8) and optional (18) action points that participating third-level institutions are requested to implement. Mandatory action points include the training of relevant staff in brief intervention, developing a college alcohol policy, and the formation of a cross-institutional, dedicated REACT steering committee. Optional action points include building partnerships with relevant community groups, developing a calendar of events with the local Students’ Union, and providing alcohol-free housing and social spaces.

To incentivise participation, institutions that successfully completed the intervention received a REACT award and accreditation. The award consisted of certification and a REACT flag presented at a formal ceremony in recognition of the college’s implementation of the programme.

To date, approximately 10 colleges in Ireland have received this award (see press release for information on award ceremony in 2019).


Evaluation of the REACT programme included a number of steps:

  • A baseline and follow-up quantitative study on student alcohol consumption levels and related behaviours, harms in a sample of participating institutions to determine if there was any change two-years post-implementation
  • A qualitative study to examine implementation of the programme among participating institutions
  • A focus group study with college students to explore their perceptions of the programme and of alcohol consumption more generally.

A discourse analysis was also undertaken of the debate around the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which was underway at the time of the REACT programme’s development and piloting.

Further information

For further information on this project, please contact Dr Susan Calnan, School of Public Health, UCC, at or Dr Michael Byrne, Head of Student Health Services, UCC, at

A copy of the report is available to view by clicking REACT Programme 

REACT - related publications

Davoren M, Calnan S, Mulcahy J, Lynch E, Perry IJ, Byrne M (2018) Responding to excessive alcohol consumption in third-level (REACT): A study protocol, BMC Health Services Research, 18(1).

Calnan S and Davoren M (2021) College students’ perspectives on an alcohol prevention programme and student drinking – A focus group study, Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 1-21.

Calnan S, Davoren P, Perry IJ and O’Donovan O (2018) Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Bill: A critical discourse analysis of industry and public health perspectives on the Bill, Contemporary Drug Problems, Vol. 45(2).


Dr Michael Byrne, UCC, and Mary Mitchell O'Connor TD (fourth and fifth from left) presenting a REACT award to one of the participating institutions (Mary Immaculate College) at official award ceremony in August 2019


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