The Value of Peer Support in Long-Term Treatment is Finally Being Recognized

What ASCENT Recovery Residences executive director Teddy Steen has known for years about peer support in the treatment of addiction issues is now being supported by evidence.

Both ASCENT and 12-step programs use peers to help addicts in their long-term recovery. Now, the treatment world is starting to see the value and incorporate peer support in its programs.

“Peer support and treatment contribute to long-term sobriety,” Steen said. “Clinically-focused treatment educates about the disease and provides the tools for people to build a recovery foundation. Peer support is about talking to someone about the process of maintaining long-term sobriety. Peers are like a mentor. They develop relationships with people, help find the resources needed after treatment and walk with the person.through their journey.”

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) definition of peer support is:

Peer support encompasses a range of activities and interactions between people who share similar experiences of being diagnosed with mental health conditions, substance use disorders or both. This mutuality-often called peerness-between a peer support worker and person in or seeking recovery promotes connection and inspires hope. Peer support offers a level of acceptance, understanding, and validation not found in many other professional relationships. By sharing their own lived experience and practical guidance, peer support workers help people to develop their own goals, create strategies for self-empowerment and take concrete steps towards building fulfilling, self-determined lives for themselves.

Peer support is part of the recovery-oriented system of care which supports the idea that many pathways to recovery exist. Treatment is not confined to one method.

“It’s a whole system,” Steen said. “One thing is not the end-all, be-all treatment. Drug court helps a person to stay sober. Connecting to a peer or group can help a person to not get off-base.”

The advantages of peer support are becoming so important that this year the Missouri Department of Mental Health put a line item in its budget for recovery support. Developing research is showing that peer support is successful in supporting recovery. Peer support workers complement the roles of therapists, case managers and other members of a treatment team. What peer support workers do is share their personal knowledge of what it is like to have lived with a disorder and subsequently how to thrive.

Below is a list from SAMHSA what peer support can do for those in recovery:

  • Increases self-esteem and confidence
  • Increases sense of control and ability to bring about changes in their lives
  • Increases sense treatment is responsive and inclusive of needs
  • Increases sense of hope and inspiration
  • Increases empathy and acceptance
  • Decreases psychotic symptoms
  • Increases engagement in self-care and wellness
  • Increases social support and social functioning
  • Decreases substance use and depression
  • Reduces hospital admission rates and longer community tenure

“AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and 12-step programs have been doing grassroots (peer support) all along,” Steen said.  The Certified Peer Specialist are equipped with the knowledge and tools to take it to the next level and they are bound by a code of ethics, it is extremely valuable.