Incorporating Peer Support Into Substance Use Disorder

Incorporating Peer Support
Into Substance Use Disorder
Treatment Services


• Peer support services (PSS) are nonclinical recovery support services that can be used to enhance substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, extend related services, and improve outcomes for people in or seeking recovery. (The term “recovery” is defined in the “Key Terms” section of this summary.)

• PSS are increasingly being integrated into diverse SUD treatment settings as well as in settings that frequently coordinate care with formal SUD treatment programs, such as recovery community organizations, recovery community centers, recovery residences, hospitals, and jails/prisons.

• Peer workers are nonclinical professionals who have lived experience with problematic substance use, behavior change, and recovery. These professionals deliver a range of recovery supports designed to improve the treatment experience of individuals who have problematic substance use and their ability to continue on their chosen recovery pathways before, during, and after treatment.

• Peer workers fill a range of roles, such as providers of recovery support, educators, engagement facilitators, role models and mentors, resource navigators, and recovery advocates. In fulfilling these roles, peer workers serve not just individuals in or seeking recovery but also their families and the community.

• To integrate PSS into SUD treatment programs, administrators should consider their organization’s culture, assess staff on their knowledge and attitudes about recovery and PSS, and examine their organization’s hiring and retention practices.

• Treatment program administrators and supervisors play key roles in helping peer workers integrate successfully into organizations and in helping other staff understand, accept, and respect their peer worker colleagues.

This is extremely important because a lack of staff understanding about peer workers’ value and roles can lead to role confusion, role strain, and role drift—all of which make it
difficult for peers to enjoy and successfully perform their jobs.

• Supervision is a critical part of all roles to ensure delivery of high-quality services. Because the peer worker role is so different from that of a clinical professional, supervisors will need training focused on how to effectively oversee and work with peer workers.

• Serving as a peer worker can be a fulfilling career for individuals in recovery who want to support individuals with problematic substance use while enhancing their own recovery. Attending specialized training and seeking certification are often the first steps on this career path.

• Families affect, and are affected by, a family member’s problematic substance use, treatment, and recovery. Thus, families too can benefit from PSS. Many family members need support, education, and resources to help them better understand their loved one’s problematic substance use and recovery and how to help themselves and their loved one. Peer workers, in the form of family peer specialists, can help fill these unmet needs.

Peer support services (PSS) enhance traditional substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and services by connecting people who are experiencing problematic substance use to others who have lived experience with problematic substance use and recovery. SUD treatment program providers, supervisors, and administrators (including clinical/program directors) should offer PSS for problematic substance use and ensure that individuals in or seeking recovery are aware of and can access these services.

Any setting that offers care and support for individuals who have problematic substance use should also offer or arrange for PSS. Integrating the peer position into SUD treatment programs should supplement PSS that are offered by recovery community organizations (RCOs) and recovery community centers (RCCs)—not replace them.

This TIP focuses on PSS provided to people seeking or receiving treatment for problematic substance use, especially from specialized SUD treatment programs. While this TIP includes some discussion of substance use–related PSS provided in settings other than SUD treatment programs, it does not cover the work of peer specialists in the mental health field.

PSS help individuals with problematic substance use start and stay in recovery long term. This is true whether delivery of PSS occurs in SUD treatment facilities or in other community-based settings. The evidence base for SUD-focused PSS shows their many possible benefits, some of which include:

• Reduced recurrence rates.

• Increased treatment motivation.

• Increased treatment engagement.

• Increased treatment retention.

• Improved relationships with treatment providers, family members, and social supports.

• Increased satisfaction with the overall treatment experience.

• Increased general self-efficacy.



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Warmest Regards, Coyalita

Behavioral Health Rehabilitative Specialist & Addiction Counselor

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