Peer recovery support services are a growing phenomenon in the USA and elsewhere.
Peer recovery support services provide social support for recovery from alcoholism and addiction. They promote engagement in the recovery process and reduce relapse once recovery has been initiated.
Because they are designed and delivered by peers–persons who have experienced a substance use disorder and recovery–they embody a powerful message of hope, as well as a wealth of experiential knowledge. They effectively extend the reach of treatment beyond the clinical setting into the everyday environment of those seeking to achieve or sustain recovery.
Emotional support refers to demonstrations of empathy, caring, and concern that bolster a person’s self-esteem and confidence. Peer mentoring, peer coaching, and peer-led support groups are examples of peer-to-peer support services that provide emotional support.
Informational support means sharing knowledge and information or providing skills training. For example, peers can provide information on where to go for resources and teach specific skills, such as resume preparation. Informational support includes peer-led life skills training (e.g., parenting, stress management, or conflict resolution), job skills training, assistance in citizenship restoration, and the sharing of health and wellness information (e.g., smoking cessation, nutrition classes, or relaxation training).
Instrumental support refers to the provision of concrete assistance to help others accomplish tasks. Examples include providing child care, clothing closets, or transportation to mutual aid group meetings and helping people obtain entitlement services or fill out applications.
Affiliation support enables people to connect with others within an alcohol and drug-free community of recovering people where they can learn new social and recreational skills and feel a sense of belonging. These interpersonal connections can be important in helping the recovering person form a new personal identity structured around health and wellness rather than alcohol and drugs. Peer-led recovery community centers are an example of affiliation support.
Role of Peers. Peer recovery support services are designed and provided primarily by peers who have gained both practical experience in the process of recovery and wisdom on how to sustain it. Within projects, these service providers are designated as peer leaders. Many peer leaders donate their time to the peer recovery support project out of a desire to give back to their communities by helping others who are seeking to recover or sustain their recovery.
Relationship to Treatment. Peer recovery support services provide social support to individuals at all stages on the continuum of change that constitutes the recovery process. Services may:
Precede formal treatment, strengthening a peer’s motivation for change;
Accompany treatment, providing a community connection during treatment;
Follow treatment, supporting relapse prevention; and
Be delivered apart from treatment to someone who cannot enter the formal treatment system or chooses not to do so.
Peer recovery support services expand the capacity of formal treatment systems by promoting the initiation of recovery, reducing relapse, and intervening early when relapse occurs. Peer leaders in some projects also provide social support to the recovering person’s family members.